Despite bright moon, Geminid meteors should appear during cloudless breaks

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      This year's Geminid meteor shower, usually one of the best for sky watchers, will have a near-full moon for company in the night heavens, but there should still be some good viewing possible.

      If you want to stay up very late (it is Friday night, after all).

      And if the weather cooperates.

      The annual astronomical event, which can produce from 60 to 100 bright meteors per hour, hits its peak tonight (December 13) and tomorrow morning (December 14).

      Because the shower's radiant point (the area in the night sky from where the meteors appear to be streaming, in this case the constellation Gemini) will be in seeming close proximity to the recently full moon, many of the meteors will be washed out, but about a third or so of the brightest should still be visible as long as there is no overcast.

      The Vancouver forecast for Friday night-early Saturday morning predicts foggy periods and sporadic clouds with clear patches. This means that if you can get to a dark area of the city or outlying areas away from strong street or building lights, you should be able to spot some sky action.

      The Geminid meteors are a product of the Earth plowing through debris scattered in space by the passage around our sun every 3.3 years of the asteroid 3200 Phaethon. Because the rocks and dust (only the size of peas or grains of rice) are travelling through space at a rate of about 35 kilometres per second, they burn up and sometimes flare quite spectacularly (a phenomenon known as a fireball) as they hit our dense atmosphere. The Geminids are known to produce lots of these, which deliver long, glowing "tails" that persist for seconds.

      (While still in space, a piece of such debris is known as a meteoroid; in the process of burning up, it is called a meteor; if any part of it survives the trip to Earth's surface, it is called a meteorite.)

      Your best chance of spotting meteors is to wait up late, until the radiant point is high in the sky and there is less light competition from ground sources. The hours from 2 a.m. to 6 a.m. are probably best, as long as there are the predicted breaks in cloud cover, but you could conceivably spot them from about 9 p.m. onwards with dark-enough sky.

      Dress warmly, take a folding chair, and bring along a Thermos of tea or mulled wine.

      And be patient.