Catching the Quadrantids
Despite the 50% predicted cloud cover and significantly large uncertainty in the precise time of the peak, I and some of my orgmates in UP AstroSoc tried our luck in observing the first meteor shower of the year during the night of January 3 until the dawn of January 4, 2011. According to British meteor astronomer Alastair McBeath, the narrow peak of this shower is predicted to occur some time between 2100 UT on 3 January (5AM on January 4) and 0600 (UT) on 4 January 2011 (2PM on January 4), however the radiant of the shower is very low in the evening hours, and will rise higher towards dawn so the best time to view this event in the Philippines was during the predawn hours of January 4.
This was my first time to observe the Quadrantid Meteor Shower. Unlike the other popular annual meteor showers like the Perseids, Leonids and the Geminids, this shower is expected to be less spectacular due to lower activity and unfavorable position of the radiant to a country near the equator like the Philippines. Nevertheless, the moonless night during January 4 and 5 enticed me to give it a chance.
We chose to observe in Marikina City, at a friend’s house which has a roof deck. From there, we had a fine view of the north and eastern sky wherein most of the Quadrantids are expected to pass.
The radiant of the meteor shower which is found a little below the Big Dipper and beside the constellation Bootes, was set to rise at around 1AM of January 4. While waiting, we spent the time preparing our simple reclining chairs and sleeping bag which we intend to use as a mat where we could lie down. We also set up our organization’s 4.5″ Meade Reflector — which we fondly called Datascope — to look for deep sky objects. We pointed it first at the famous stellar sisters, the Pleaides or M45, in Taurus. We enjoyed stargazing and constellation-hopping because the sky was fairly clear then.
At around 1:30 AM, I saw my first Quadrantid. It was a short and swift one having a thin trail and a pale bluish big head, typical of a Quadrantid meteor. It passed between the pointer stars, Dubhe and Merak in Ursa Major. It was an amazing scene!
After about 30 minutes, patches of clouds began to block our view. We decided to pause our observation for a while to pick up a friend who would join us.
We continued on our observation with a less cloudy sky (around 40% cloud cover) by 3:20 AM during which we saw another Quadrantid passing near Corona Borealis. Another one zoomed past by the Bootes at 4 AM.
At 5 AM (21:oo UT), during the time of the peak we saw more meteors flying across the northeast in between cloud gaps of the 50-60 % clouded sky. In my previous post, I calculated for the number of meteors that could be seen given the 50% cloud cover and 4.0 limiting magnitude using the formula given by IMO. The actual meteor count we got during the peak is 6, which was relatively comparable to the 8 meteors per hour which I had calculated.
By 5:40 AM, we also saw one artificial satellite flying from the northwest. During this time, Venus and Mercury were already shining high in the east though they seemed to disappear from time to time as clouds pass in front of them. We also took sometime to capture a few bright constellations like my favorite, Crux in the south.
We ended our observation at past 6:00 AM when the Sun started to climb up in the east. A beautiful sunrise greeted us as we finished our observation and ate our breakfast — McChicken Fillet Meal from McDonalds — courtesy of our friend Saeed, who had his birthday during that observation.
The following night two of my fellow UP AstroSoc friends — Bea and Aaron — went to Seven Suites Hotel Observatory in Antipolo City, accompanied by some of our UP AstroSoc associates, to observe the Quadrantids from there. The sky there offers a more favorable viewing condition because it was farther from the light-polluted city. They were even lucky to have less cloudy sky during that night.
Below are some of the pictures taken during their observation at the Seven Suites Hotel Observtaory. All images are by Bea Banzuela.
I never expected that this event would turn out to be another memorable and fun observation. Thank you, UP Astrosoc!
To all those who were able to say hello to this year’s Quadrantids, congratulations and good luck on your observation of the next meteor shower.