Quadrantid meteor shower to light up the night sky on January 3

Spectacular night-time sight expected to peak early on Wednesday and may be visible from the UAE

The Quadrantids, the first meteor shower of 2022, over the village of Hinojedo, in Spain. EPA
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Stargazers will be hoping to start the new year in style with a spectacular meteor shower expected to achieve its peak of activity in the sky on Tuesday evening into Wednesday morning.

The Quadrantid meteor shower is a regular early-January fixture on astronomers' calendars, many of whom will be hoping to see as many as 100 meteors or more every hour.

Skywatchers keen to enjoy the Quadrantids are advised to go somewhere without significant amounts of light, so the centre of the UAE’s big cities might not be the ideal location.

Peak visibility

The meteor show is active for over several weeks, but it reaches a peak on the night of January 3 to 4, when the most frequent array of meteor showers will be visible.

Activity reaches its high point at about 3am GMT, 7am UAE time, although experts say this timing is not completely certain. More northern latitudes are likely to offer the best views.

The peak of the Quadrantid meteor shower takes place over just a few hours, an unusually short period for a meteor shower, some others can be at their best for a couple of days.

While there is this intense burst of activity, the meteor shower as a whole stretches from December 28 to January 12, according to the UK’s Royal Museums Greenwich, an organisation that looks after several museums, including the celebrated Royal Observatory, Greenwich.

"The Quadrantid meteor shower is among the strongest and most consistent meteor showers and could reach a maximum rate of 110 meteors per hour on a clear night," the organisation said.

An area of the sky between the Draco and Bootes constellations of stars, which is near to the well-known Plough or Big Dipper constellation, is where the meteors appear to radiate from.

No need for special equipment

There are smartphone apps available to help stargazers work out where they should look to get the best view of the phenomenon.

Meteors will be visible in all parts of the sky, so observations are best done from a location with a wide, uninterrupted view.

Described as "bluish or yellowish white meteors with fine trains", the meteor showers should be visible to the naked eye without the use of binoculars or a telescope.

They are caused by space debris that, travelling at speeds of many kilometres per second, vaporises as it reaches the Earth’s atmosphere.

Compared with other meteor showers, the Quadrantids involve unusually large pieces of matter, in this case originating from 2003 EH1, an asteroid-like "dead comet", which has lost the ice and gas that gave it a tail.

The Quadrantid meteor shower was named after Quadrans Muralis, a constellation of stars found in the same area of the sky. Quadrans Muralis is no longer officially recognised as a constellation and is now part of the Bootes constellation.

Once the Quadrantids are over, stargazers will have a few months to wait before the next meteor shower on the calendar, the Lyrids, which arrive in late April.

In early May the Eta Aquariids appear, while the Alpha Capricornids and the Delta Aquariids follow in late July, with a string of others expected to light up the night sky later in the year.

Updated: December 30, 2022, 1:32 PM
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