The Quadrantids (QUA) are usually as strong as the more widely observed Perseids and Geminids, but have a short peak, making them tricky to see at their best. For 2020, it appeared to be promising with an ideal timing of the shower’s narrow peak for North American longitudes, as well as favourable viewing conditions (setting first quarter moon before the prime viewing time). Raymond Dubois decided to join me for an attempt to observe and photograph the shower. The big question was the weather which can easily be poor (and very cold) at this time of the year. Up until just a day or two before the peak, the forecasts were dismal and would show just a few possible clear holes several hours of drive from Ottawa. We wanted to setup at a local dark sky site, but the hope for that was quickly vanishing. Instead, it looked like a longer road trip would be necessary to catch this shower!
We found that the weather forecasts favoured clearer skies up past Quebec city, along the Saint Lawrence River, we had only about a day to organize our gear and pack up. The road trip would be around 500 km into an unfamiliar area, so we also needed some extra time to locate an observing site (that is dark, quiet, secluded and with a wide open view of the sky) and then setup. We packed everything in Raymond’s SUV, and we left early on the afternoon of the 3rd. After an uneventful trip, we checked out two possible sites. The first one had possibilities but would likely have lights from passing cars. The second site was much more secluded, deep in a field, well away from any traffic or lights. It was perfect! We unpacked the car and got busy with our setups.
Much of the evening had an overcast sky, and it wasn’t until 9pm that it cleared enough to align our mounts. The clearing was short lived though, and clouds rolled in for another two hours. It was mild at only +1C but the windchill made it feel like -8C, and it was certainly felt in the wide open space we were. Raymond found refuge behind the back of his SUV while I wrapped myself up in my thick sleeping bag and bivy sack. Near midnight, the sky cleared and a few really nice Quadrantid earthgrazers appeared, including a 50 degrees long colourful -2 moving up into Ursa Major (though not captured by any of our cameras). I made a few early attempts to sign on for formal counts, but that didn’t last more than a few minutes before getting clouded over again.
At around 1:00am EST, the sky became variable cloudiness but the Quadrantids were very active. Several meteors could be seen passing through the clear holes, including a beautiful blue Quadrantid near Procyon. It appeared that the shower was near full tilt, but it was still too cloudy for formal counts.
The sky finally cleared almost completely at 1:25am, and I could observe for the next two and a half hours with a high radiant. The shower’s peak was expected around at 4:00am, but instead of seeing a shower building up in intensity, the opposite effect was seen. The peak clearly came a few hours earlier than predicted. My QUA hourly rates were 26, 28 and 14 (for the final half hour) for a total of 71 Quadrantids. On top of that, I saw 3 December Leonis Minorids, 2 Anthelions, 2 January Leonids, 2 lambda Bootids and 12 sporadics. The nicest meteor was a mag +1 QUA just after midnight that left a long wake on top of Orion.
Even though we missed the Quadrantids peak and the late-night rates were disappointing, it was still a great night. Thank you to Raymond Dubois for joining me! Had the peak came by on schedule, we would have been in perfect position to have seen it! As it turns out, the European and Atlantic longitudes had a better view of it this time.
Here’s my photo results:
Composite image of 7 Quadrantids and 1 sporadic. January 3/4 2020. Canon 5D with 35mm lens at f/2.0, ISO 800
Time lapse: 45 minutes into a 9 seconds clip — Quadrantid fireball persistent train
January 3/4 2020. Canon 6D with 24mm lens at f/2.0, ISO 1600. This fireball was missed visually due to attending cameras.
Session Date: January 3/4 2020, 05:25-09:10 UT (00:25-04:10 EST)
Location: L’Islet, Quebec, Canada (lng: -70.4039; lat: 47.0690)
Anthelion (ANT) – 07:48 (117) +21
alpha Hydrids (AHY) – 08:32 (128) -09
January Leonids (JLE) – 09:55 (149) +24
December Leonis Minorids (DLM) – 11:34 (174) +24
lambda Bootids (LBO) – 14:00 (210) +51
Quadrantids (QUA) – 15:23 (231) +49
05:25-05:50 UT (00:25-00:50 EST); partly cloudy; 3/5 trans; F 1.11; LM 5.80; facing N70 deg; teff 0.333 hr
QUA: three: +1(2); +2
Total meteors: Four
06:25-07:41 UT (01:25-02:41 EST); a few clouds early in the period; 3/5 trans; F 1.03; LM 6.20; facing NE60 deg; teff 1.00 hr
QUA: twenty-six: +1(4); +2(6); +3(4); +4(5); +5(7)
ANT: two: +4; +5
Sporadics: one: +3
Total meteors: Thirty-one
07:41-08:41 UT (02:41-03:41 EST); clear; 3/5 trans; F 1.00; LM 6.20; facing NE60 deg; teff 1.00 hr
QUA: twenty-eight: 0; +1(3); +2(5); +3(3); +4(7); +5(9)
JLE: one: +2
DLM: one: +4
LBO: one: +5
Sporadics: nine: +1; +2(2); +3; +4(4); +5
Total meteors: Forty
08:41-09:10 UT (03:41-04:10 EST); increasing clouds; 3/5 trans; F 1.21; LM 6.20; facing NE60 deg; teff 0.48 hr
QUA: fourteen: 0; +1(3); +2; +3(5); +4(3); +5
DLM: two: +1; +2
Sporadics: one: +4
Total meteors: Seventeen