Look up and get ready to make a wish on a shooting star. This is the time of the year when we're most likely to see meteorites streaking across the skies, and when the "falling stars" are at their brightest.
The Earth travels through the annual Geminid meteor shower each December. The Geminid are named after the Gemini twins because the meteors seems to start near the bright star Castor in the Gemini constellation.
The climax of the Geminid meteor shower passed on Thursday, but there are still plenty of shooting stars to be seen through the end of the month, according to the NASA Web site at science.nasa.gov.
This year's display of shooting stars has been and will be even more spectacular than usual because the moon is in its darker phases during most of the meteor activity, and the last meteors tend to be especially bright, if not as numerous.
Almost as spectacular is the Perseids meteor shower that comes around each August. While not as showy, Perseids is probably better known because the weather tends to be a bit friendlier in late summer than in early winter.
Mars also is in Gemini this month and will approach Earth in a couple of weeks, shining a bright yellow-orange.
The best viewing times for any of these heavenly light shows are from 10 p.m. to about 4 a.m., naturally, when the sky is darkest.
Those living in this part of the desert Southwest are especially blessed to have the dark night skies that allow them to enjoy nature's fireworks displays.
Melanie DeBo-Stauffer, head of the Windy River Institute based in Golden Valley, said everyone knows how annoying and intrusive it is to have a neighbor's security light obscuring the view of the star-studded night skies.
Stauffer urged everyone to be considerate.
"If you're that annoying neighbor, consider replacing standard yard and home security lights with motion sensor lights or the newer lights that direct light downward, not out," she said.
"They'll save money and make you a more considerate neighbor, all at the same time."
Dark Skies, she said, is a movement in the schools, churches and communities to spread information about street and private lighting alternatives that provide needed outdoor lighting at night, without fading the intensity and beauty of the night skies.
The Dark Skies initiative is aimed at discouraging light pollution, described at the International Dark Skies Association Web site at www.darkskies.org. as "any adverse effect of artificial light, including sky glow, glare, light trespass, light clutter, decreased visibility at night, and energy waste."
"Our mission is to preserve and protect the nighttime environment and our heritage of dark skies through quality outdoor lighting," the IDA site states.
"One of the reasons many of us moved here was for the beauty of the night skies. We can do this, even in the unincorporated areas," Stauffer said.
"We need to let our neighbors and businesses know and we need to educate our county supervisors about the new technologies. We need to preserve our vision of the night skies now, before too much else moves into this area."
Arizona is a prime candidate for the Dark Skies initiative. IDA's 20th-annual general meeting will be June 8-10 in Tucson.
"We can do this. Flagstaff was the first International Dark Skies city. We can declare ourselves a dark skies community," Stauffer said.
For more information, call her at 565-5670 or e-mail her at email@example.com.