The 2014 Quadrantids, a little-known sky spectacle of meteor showers named after an extinct constellation, will present an excellent chance for hardy souls to start the year off with some late-night meteor watching.
Peaking in the wee morning hours between January 3 and 4, the Quadrantids have a maximum rate of about 100 per hour, varying between 60-200. The waxing gibbous new moon transitioning for the first quarter provide excellent meteor observing before dawn. It’s a good thing, too, because unlike the more famous Perseid and Geminid meteor showers, the Quadrantids only last a few hours, or nothing.
Like the Geminids, the Quadrantids originate from an asteroid, called 2003 EH1. Dynamical studies suggest that this body could very well be a piece of a comet which broke apart several centuries ago, and that the meteors you will see are the small debris from this fragmentation. After hundreds of years orbiting the sun, they will enter our atmosphere at 90,000 mph, burning up 50 miles above Earth’s surface, a fiery end to a long journey!
The Quadrantids derive their name from the constellation of Quadrans Muralis (mural quadrant), which was created by the French astronomer Jerome Lalande in 1795. Located between the constellations of Bootes and Draco, Quadrans represents an early astronomical instrument used to observe and plot stars. Even though the constellation is no longer recognized by astronomers, it was around long enough to give the meteor shower, first seen in 1825, its name.
Given the location of the radiant — northern tip of Bootes the Herdsman — only northern hemisphere observers will be able to see Quadrantids.
More sky scene
Earlier on January 1, the planet Venus was sighted shining at magnitude -3.7 very low in the west southwestern horizon after sunset. It slips down the horizon as days pass by and it will no longer be available for observation after the first week of the month. It will then appear in the morning sky at the last week of the month.
PAGASA officer Vicente Malano said the planet Mercury comes into view on mid-January at the west southwestern horizon. It will be shining at magnitude -1.0 and will have full disk (span of 5 seconds of an arc in diameter) as seen through a telescope.
Neptune and Uranus will be found above the west southwestern sky after sunset and can be observed with the aid of modest-sized telescopes and binoculars under clear skies with the aid of a star map. They will be located among the background stars of the constellations Aquarius, the Water-Bearer and Pisces, the Fish, glowing at magnitudes +5.8 and +7.9, respectively.
Jupiter will dazzle at magnitude -2.7 in the eastern sky after sunset and will be visible in the evening sky throughout the month. It will be found among the background stars of the constellation Gemini, the Twin.
This month will also provide a perfect opportunity to view the largest planet in the solar system with its alternating series of bright zones and dark belts and with a diameter disk that measure at 47 seconds of an arc.
Saturn rises in the early morning hours during the month. It will be glowing at magnitude +0.6 and will be located within the stars of the constellation of Libra, the Scales. Through a telescope, it will measure at 16 arc of a second across its equator, while the ring spans at 37 and tilt at 22 degrees to our line of sight.
Mars will rise before midnight during the month of January. It will be found among the stars of the constellation of Virgo, the Maiden.
By the end of the month, the planets apparent diameter will reach 9 arc of a second through a modest-sized telescope. (as sourced from NASA and PAGASA)