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Blog : Posts tagged with ‘Quadrantids’

More meteors

You wait for months, and then...

Another small astronomy note: the first of the year’s big meteor showers occurs over the next couple of days. I know it’s less than a month since the last big meteor shower of 2020, the Geminids, but tomorrow we have the peak of the Quadrantid shower. They’re a bit harder to see than the Geminids, partly because they’re usually fainter and partly because they’re concentrated into a narrower stream, so they’re seen over a much shorter time-range. Moreover, looking at the weather forecast, I doubt we’re going to have clear enough skies to have any chance of seeing them.

Interestingly, the Quadrantids are named after a constellation that doesn’t officially exist any more. Their name comes from Quadrans Muralis, “the wall-mounted quadrant”, a constellation named in the late 18th century by Jerome Lalande—he named it after an astronomical instrument he’d used to help him map the sky. Naming constellations after scientific machinery was quite fashionable in the 18th century; we still have Antlia, Horologium, Microscopium, Octans and Reticulum in the sky, to name just a few. Nevertheless, when the boundaries of the constellations were officially defined by the IAU back in the 1920s, Quadrans Muralis was left out of the list. Its part of the sky is now mostly split between Draco and Boötes, with a small piece in Hercules. You could argue the Quadrantids should really have been renamed the Boötids, but the old name has stuck.