DUBAI// Stargazers are hoping for clear skies on Thursday night to catch a glimpse of a spectacular meteor shower.
The Geminids shower will be the last of the year and enthusiasts are hoping for a dazzling cosmic display with streaks of light flashing across the night sky.
Enthusiasts are hoping to see as many as 120 meteors an hour at the height of the shower.
The best times to look skywards will be from midnight tomorrow through to the early hours of Friday.
"I think it will be a very interesting evening as we are expecting to see some really nice shooting stars," said Hasan Ahmed Al Hariri, the head of Dubai Astronomy Group.
"We expect the meteor shower to start slowly from the late evening and then increase as the night goes on."
The UAE sees up to nine meteor showers a year with the three biggest happening in August, November and December.
"This one tends to be the best for viewing purposes because the weather is a lot better and we usually get clear skies.
"One of the things we want to do as a group is to encourage people to learn more about astronomy," he said.
The group has organised a special viewing at its Al Zubair Camp just outside of Sharjah on Thursday evening.
View The Geminids shower viewing in UAE in a larger map
"This year we are also encouraging people with digital cameras to come along and we will provide guidance on how best to take pictures of the meteor shower and the night sky in general," said Mr Al Hariri.
According Nasa, the Geminids shower is made up of pieces of debris from a mysterious object known as 32000 Phaethon.
"Near closest approach to the Sun (perihelion), Phaethon exhibits increases in brightness similar to that of a comet; however, its orbit is characteristic of an asteroid," said the Nasa website.
"Extinct comet or asteroid? The debate still rages among astronomers."
Each year around mid-December, the Earth enters Phaethon's debris stream, which causes the Geminid meteor shower.
Unlike the two other main meteor showers, Perseids in August and Leonids in November, Geminids are a relatively young event with the first reports dating back to the 1830s, said Nasa.
"Over the decades the rates have increased - it is now the best annual meteor shower - and we regularly see between 80 and 120 per hour at its peak on a clear evening.
"The moon will hamper that this year, but if your skies are clear you can still expect to see as many as 40 per hour," said Nasa.
Although the best time to see the shower is expected to be Thursday, it could happen anytime from tonight to Sunday.
"There might be a chance for people to see something from today but we think the best time frame will be from around midnight on Thursday through to around dawn on Friday," said Mr Al Hariri.
"Clear skies are essential for viewing these things and that's why it's better to be away from the cities because the light from tall buildings can make it difficult to see."
According to the National Centre of Metrology and Seismology in Abu Dhabi, it is likely to be partly cloudy in northern regions on Thursday while coastal areas may see dust in the atmosphere due to high sea winds, which could affect visibility.
As well as the meteor shower, guests at the Thuraya observatory will also be able to use the group's 16" telescope to view Jupiter.
Entry is Dh10 for adults and Dh5 for children. The event starts from 8pm on Thursday though to the early hours of Friday morning.
For more information, visit www.dubaiastronomy.com