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If the skies stay clear, this meteor shower might be visible here

In this picture provided by Wally Pacholka of AstroPics.com, a Geminid fireball explodes over the Mojave Desert on Dec. 13, 2009.
In this picture provided by Wally Pacholka of AstroPics.com, a Geminid fireball explodes over the Mojave Desert on Dec. 13, 2009. Astropics.com AP

The annual Geminid meteor shower is usually an exercise in futility for stargazers in Western Washington, where clear nights in December are about as common as Sasquatch sightings.

Even this year, there’s no guarantee. But the recent respite from rain could tilt the odds in our favor, according to the National Weather Service (NWS).

Wednesday night, when the shower peaks, clouds are predicted to be scarce in the Puget Sound region, said NWS meteorologist Johnny Burg.

“It looks like things will start out OK,” he said. “At 1 a.m. there could be some clouds moving in.”

There’s also no sign of fog on the horizon, though that situation could change quickly, Burg added.

If the weather cooperates, the sky show could be impressive.

At the shower’s peak, between about 9 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 13, and dawn Thursday, Dec. 14, a shooting star could streak across the sky every minute or two.

The Geminids are active every December when the Earth passes though a swath of dusty debris trailed by the small, rocky asteroid called 3200 Phaethon.

The moon won’t rise until 3 a.m., so the night will be dark – as long as you get away from the city.

“With August’s Perseids obscured by bright moonlight, the Geminids will be the best shower this year,” said Bill Cooke, of NASA’s Meteorological Office. “The thin, waning crescent moon won’t spoil the show.”

The Geminids are active every December when the Earth passes though a swath of dusty debris trailed by the small, rocky asteroid called 3200 Phaethon.

Only about 3 miles across, the asteroid wasn’t discovered until 1983, even though the annual Geminid shower was recognized as a yearly phenomenon by the mid-1800s.

Because 3200 Phaethon is a rocky body, the bits of dust and debris it leaves in its wake can contain minerals that create colored streaks of light when they plunge into the Earth’s atmosphere and vaporize, Ingram said.

“It’s like fireworks. You can see greens and red and blues, if you’re lucky.”

Ingram urges would-be meteor watchers to get as far away from city lights as possible. But in-city viewing is not out of the question, particularly in areas with fewer lights. Just don’t expect to see as many shooting stars as in an area with truly dark skies.

The shower is named for the constellation Gemini, from which the meteors appear to emanate. Gemini will rise in the east, but shooting stars can be seen in all quadrants of the sky – so most experts advise simply lying flat and looking up.

Wherever you go, Ingram suggests giving your eyes 30 minutes or so to adjust to darkness, and bundling up to stay warm.

“Once your eyes are dark-adapted and you’ve got a good hot drink and you’re wrapped up in your sleeping bag, then set your mind to observing for a good hour or so,” he said.

By coincidence, 3200 Phaeton is making its closest swing by Earth this week, passing within a mere 6.4 million miles on Dec. 16. It will be visible by telescope in areas where the sky is clear.

For those who would prefer to see the Geminids and 3200 Phaeton without leaving the comfort of their homes, the Virtual Telescope Project will offer live webcasts online at: virtualtelescope.eu.

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