One of the most beautiful nights of the year is happening right above your head on Thursday night.
That’s because the Perseids meteor shower will be at its peak. Now, it happens every year around this time, but on Thursday it’s expected to be extra beautiful because forecasters predict an “outburst,” which means the showers will happen at double the rate — almost 200 meteors per hour.
So what exactly is a meteor? Well it’s kind of like dust left behind when the comet whizzed around the sun. When that comet dust collides with Earth’s atmosphere it breaks up into small parts and causes a flash of light. The Perseids are the debris of an ancient comet called the Swift-Tuttle comet, which looks like it’s coming from the Perseus constellation.
The Earth passes through the Perseid debris every year from July 13 through Aug. 16. Peak meteor activity happens from Aug. 11 to 12 — which means the sky is extra beautiful with hundreds of bright and fast meteors soaring through space.
Sometimes the Earth just grazes the edge of the comet dust, which isn’t as fun to watch because there’s not that much light. But sometimes we go straight through it and there are a ton of meteors — and that’s what is happening this year.
It’s a commitment, though. The best viewing will be after midnight through dawn, and probably prettiest from 2 a.m. to 5 a.m. For max enjoyment, give your eyes about 45 minutes to adjust to the sky, so get out there by 1 a.m..
You should also go somewhere really dark, far away from the city’s light pollution. Check out this dark sky finder to help you plan your night.
These are a few of our favorite spots for stargazing:
If you’re up for a drive…
Cost: Usually it costs $20 a car to get in, but after 5 p.m. there’s no one at the guard gate, so it’s $free.99
Where to go: Either Shark Valley, the Anhinga Trail, or the Pahayokee Overlook
The fine print: There are a LOT of mosquitoes out there, so take your bug spray and use it judiciously.
How to get there:
Shark Valley: Map yourself to the Shark Valley Visitor Center. You’ll have to park your car along US 41 because the parking lot is locked by 6 p.m., but it’s totally cool to do that and then walk into the park.
If you’re being super ambitious, bring your bike. It’s a 15 mile paved path — bike all the way down to the Observation tower. Climb up and lay on your back and look up and enjoy. If you’re not trying to do all that, just walk onto the path, find a spot you like and lay down on the paved path. The last option is to just drive up to the edge of the Shark Valley along the 8th street extension,park your car lay a blanket out and lay on top.
The Anhinga Trail: Map yourself to the Royal Palm Visitor Center where the trailhead starts. It’s a 0.8-mile round trip elevated wooden platform that winds through a sawgrass marsh, where you’ll probably see alligators, turtles, anhingas, herons, egrets, and lots of birds. [NOTE: Right now the trail is under construction so only part of it is open. It will probably still be nice, but not the ideal.]
Pahayokee Overlook: Map yourself to the Pahayokee Overlook. It’s a 0.16-mile trail, with an elevated boardwalk. You should be able to park by the overlook without a problem.
Big Cypress National Preserve
Where to go: Bear Island
The fine print: Bring the bug spray, you’ll need it.
How to get there: It’s about a 1.5-hour drive, but it’s worth it if you really want to see the stars in all their glory. Just map to Bear Island, and you should be good — but the whole preserve gets pretty dark so you can probably just pick any spot. It’s one of the darkest skies in the state.
If you want to stay close…
Try to find an isolated spot away from light pollution. Somewhere there’s not as much development is probably a good bet — try North Shore Open Space Park.
If you can get on a boat…
Boca Chita/Elliott Key
Cost: In the summer it’s free.
The fine print: There’s a bunch of mosquitoes and other critters, so bring a lot of bug spray. There’s no trash pick up or power so take everything you need with you.
How to get there: This is a little more ambitious, but if you can find a friend with a boat take it out onto Biscayne Bay and just dock at the island. There are benches and campsites, so just pitch a tent and enjoy. For Elliott Key dock at the harbor and then walk across the island away from the city and towards the ocean side of the where it’s a little darker. Lay a blanket down and enjoy.
Or you can just boat into the middle of the bay and enjoy. You’ve got one of the best views of the starry sky possible.
If you’re down to go to Broward…
Weasel Trail boat ramp
The fine print: There are no bathrooms, food, or water. There is no security on duty either. Take your phone and car charger and some bug spray. Steer clear of water and deep grass to stay away from alligators and snakes.
How to get there: It’s on US 27 about 6 miles north of the I-75 interchange, also known as the 26 Mile Bend. It’s all paved roads. You can’t just throw it on Google maps, but these are the GPS coordinates: 26°14’2″N 80°27’43″W.
Is there a spot we missed? Let us know and we’ll add it. Have fun stargazing, Miami. Take some photos while you’re out there and send it our way!