The Quadrantid meteor shower 2024: How to watch

When does the Quadrantid meteor shower peak?

The 2024 Quadrantid meteor shower peaks on the night between Jan. 3 and Jan. 4. The Quadrantids have a shorter peak and lower hourly rate compared to more well-known meteor showers like the Perseids and Geminids. 

From a dark sky location, you can expect to see an average of about 25 meteors per hour during the 6-hour peak. 

The Quadrantids have a shorter peak and lower hourly rate compared to more well-known meteor showers like the Perseids and Geminids. From a dark sky location, you can expect to see an average of about 25 meteors per hour during the 6-hour peak, though up to 100 meteors per hour are sometimes seen. Use timeanddate.com to find ideal times and viewing directions for your location.

There will be a last-quarter Moon in the night sky during the 2024 Quadrantids, which will make viewing a little more difficult. 

What causes the Quadrantid meteor shower?

The Quadrantid meteor shower is caused by debris from a near-Earth object called 2003 EH1. The object is likely an asteroid, a dead comet, or a possible "rock comet." The debris from EH1 often produces bright fireballs.

Where can I watch the Quadrantid meteor shower?

The Quadrantid radiant is far to the north on the sky’s dome, making it mostly visible from the Northern Hemisphere. Look toward the Big Dipper constellation, since the radiant of this shower is just below that in the sky.

The best way to watch a meteor shower is from a dark sky site, so it helps to get away from city lights as much as you can. To watch, go to the darkest place you can, let your eyes adjust, and look overhead — but avoid staring directly at the Moon.

2003 EH1
2003 EH1 This image of near-Earth object 2003 EH1 was captured by the 10-meter Keck I telescope in 2013. The object is likely an asteroid, a dead comet, or a possible "rock comet" that produces the debris that causes the annual Quadrantid meteor shower.Image: Kasuga, T. and Jewitt, D. (2015)

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What is a meteor shower? Meteors are also known as shooting stars, but they aren't actually stars at all. Meteors are streaks of light in the sky caused by dust and sand-sized rocks burning up as they hit Earth's upper atmosphere.

What is a meteor? 

Meteors are also known as shooting stars, but they aren't actually stars at all. Meteors are streaks of light in the sky caused by dust and small rocks burning up as they hit Earth's upper atmosphere at very high speeds — tens of kilometers per second.

These small particles create bright streaks of light you can see from the ground at night. In general, the bigger the piece of space dust, the brighter the meteor. 

Space is full of dust, so on a typical night from a dark location, you might see up to 10 meteors per hour — no shower required!

What is a meteor shower?

Meteor showers occur when the Earth passes through debris shed by a comet or asteroid. They reoccur at about the same time every year, when Earth comes around in its orbit and passes through the debris again.

Two of the best meteor showers of the year are the Perseids, which peak in mid-August, and the Geminids, which peak in mid-December. The Perseids often get more media attention because they occur during the northern hemisphere summer. However, the Geminids typically produce more meteors.

Meteor showers are named after the constellation that contains the radiant of the shower. The radiant is where the meteors appear to emanate from — if you draw a line back along the meteors, all of the lines will meet at the same point. This is an effect of the Earth speeding through the comet debris, meaning when you watch a meteor shower, you're seeing direct evidence of our planet orbiting the Sun!

How to watch a meteor shower

All you need to watch a meteor shower is your eyes, patience, and a mostly cloud-free night. Go out, get comfortable, and stare at the sky. Typically the best time to see a meteor shower is between midnight and pre-dawn, because that's when you are on the leading side of the Earth, watching the comet debris come at you like rain hitting a car windshield.

You don’t have to stare in the direction of the radiant; in fact, meteors farther away from it will appear longer. It is often said that an ideal place to look is 45 degrees away from the radiant, but the most important factor is getting to a dark location away from city lights, letting your eyes adjust for several minutes, and looking at the darkest patch of sky you can.

Go out, look up at the night sky and have fun!