The Quadrantid meteors, the first major meteor shower of 2020, will peak in the pre-dawn hours of Jan. 4, but you'll have to act fast if you want to see them.
They only appear for a few hours, an especially narrow window for spotting anything in the night sky. Though short, the meteor shower should be strong thanks to a waxing moon. In years past, the Quadrantids have produced 50-100 meteors per hour, and under ideal conditions, can spark up to 200 meteors per hour. The peak of this year's shower — around 3:20 a.m. EST on Saturday — could be one of the best opportunities for skywatchers, and well-worth braving the cold to experience.
On top of that, the meteor shower's radiant point — where the meteors appear to originate — is relatively far north in the Northern Hemisphere. So if you live in North America, you'll have a good opportunity to see the show.
Not like other meteor showers
While most meteor showers originate from a comet, the Quadrantids originate from Asteroid 2003 EH1. Most meteor showers are also named for the constellation closest to their radiation point, but the Quadrantids differ in this respect as well. There once was a constellation named Quadrans Muralis — thus the name — but it was incorporated into the constellation Boötes in 1922. If that doesn't ring a bell, try looking just below the Big Dipper starting around midnight, let your eyes get adjusted and look for meteors for at least an hour. Then, you should be in for a good show.
The Quadrantids were equally impressive in 2017 as you can see in the YouTube video posted at the top of this file. YouTube user poochen geez recorded the meteor shower in St. Ives, a port town in Cornwall. The skywatcher was only able to see a couple of Quadrantids with the naked eye, but the time-lapse recording reveals many more, with meteors streaking across the sky.
So if you have a camera, get ready and find a prime stargazing spot for one of the best meteor showers of the year.
Editor's note: This article has been updated since it was originally published in January 2017.