The First Meteor Shower of 2021 Will Light Up the Sky Over the Weekend

There's not a lot of time to see them, but it's worth it.

Quadrantid meteor shower 2021
Jason Weingart / Barcroft Media via Getty Images

On the heels of a showstopping December, January is a little slow for stargazers between a lack of major events and the frigid weather. Nonetheless, the month has frontloaded the good stuff with the Quadrantid meteor shower peaking the night of January 2 into the morning of January 3

NASA writes that the Quadrantids are "considered to be one of the best annual meteor showers." The early-year display has the ability to produce up to 200 meteors per hour, per NASA, but you're not going to get a show like that this year. In fact, you're not getting a show like that most years. It's still a beautiful display, but it's not going to be the best you'll see in 2021. 

The Quadrantids have a sharp peak. Unlike other showers that produce around their maximum rate for a longer period, the Quadrantids only hit their maximum for a handful of hours. Depending on when that peak is, it's not always such a great show. Additionally, the weather sucks, and this year, many meteors will be washed out by a waning gibbous moon.

Still, it's a great chance to see meteors if you've got clear skies, and you're not going to have another opportunity until late April when the Lyrids arrive.

How to see the Quadrantid meteor shower

The American Meteor Society notes that the Quadrantids always "have the potential to be the strongest shower of the year," but that, again, is almost never the case because of the sharp peak of the shower. Its window of maximum activity is very brief. 

The shower doesn't produce meteors with persistent trains (long tails that blaze after the meteor), but it does produce fireballs, which are brighter than the average meteor. That can make the display extra gorgeous. And because of that, you can catch some despite the interference you'll get from the bright moonlight. 

You'll find the shower's radiant high in the northeast sky. Its radiant is the no-longer-recognized constellation Quadrans Muralis. It'll be easier to recognize other nearby constellations like Bootes. The International Meteor Organization puts the best time to see the display around 14:30 UTC. In the US, the predawn hours are going to be your best bet to see as many meteors as possible. Though, as EarthSky notes, anytime after midnight until those predawn hours is going to be a decent time to be viewing. 

You'll need to head somewhere with dark skies. Get outside of a city, where the rampant light pollution is going to make it difficult to see meteors and other features of the night sky. Sit on the ground and lean back, so you can take in as much of the night sky as possible. Avoid having lights from devices and flashlights out as well. Those will negatively impact your night vision. It's not warm out, but give yourself some time. More and more will become visible as your eyes adjust to the darkness over the course of about half an hour.

Because of its radiant being a forgotten constellation, you'll sometimes hear the Quadrantids referred to as the Bootids due to the radiant also being near Bootes. Whatever you decide to call them, they've always got the potential to put on a beautiful show if you're willing to bundle up and get out there.

Ready to go stargazing?

Here are all the best stargazing events that you can get out and see this month or you could stay in a stream the northern lights from home. If you're just getting started, check out our guide to astronomy for beginners or easy stargazing road trips from big US cities

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Dustin Nelson is a Senior Staff Writer at Thrillist. Follow Dustin Nelson on Twitter.