The annual summer Perseid meteor shower is going to be the best sky show in decades, NASA predicts, and it is peaking in the wee hours of Thursday night into early Friday.
You could already see some streaks across the sky earlier this week and will also be able to see some over the weekend. But this year astronomers expect an outburst of 100 to 200 meteors per hour — about double the usual rate — that will peak from 11 p.m. to 4:30 a.m., according to Earthsky.org.
The uptick in meteors this year is due to the influence of Jupiter, according to NASA. The planet's gravitational pull influences the meteor streams, and this year it is pulling them toward Earth, making for the best summertime show since 2009.
Perseids (pronounced percy-ud) can be seen in the early evening if the sky is clear, but it's after midnight until dawn that the meteors bombard the sky most abundantly.
But you need to find a dark enough place to appreciate it, away from the city's "light pollution."
Here are some darker corners around the Tampa Bay area for sky watching:
• The very dark Dade Battlefield Historic State Park in Bushnell is opening its gates from 8 to 10 p.m. Friday, inviting visitors to take a walk along trails before stopping to view shooting stars. Entry is $3 per vehicle; $2 for those walking or on bicycles. The park is at 7200 County Road 603. Call (352) 793-4781.
• The Withlacoochee River Park, at 12449 Withlacoochee Blvd., Dade City, is popular with astronomy clubs. If you are not camping overnight, stop at the park office and get a $5 pass to park on the big, open recreation field used by astronomers. You have to get the pass before the park closes at 7 p.m.
• On Davis Islands, you'll often find dozens of people on blankets watching for the Perseids near Peter O. Knight Airport.
• Thanks to sea turtles, there is low lighting on the beaches stretching between St. Pete Beach and Clearwater, as well as Anna Maria Island and elsewhere along the gulf coast. Though city lights can still pose a problem, their low lighting away from the beach can make the sky brighter.
• The Sunshine Skyway bridge rest area is surprisingly dark, as is the Gandy Beach area. They aren't ideal for sky watching, but better than most.
• If you're up for a road trip, one of the best viewing spots is Cedar Key, a fishing hamlet north of Crystal River about an hour west of Ocala. It is one of the truly dark-sky places left in Florida.
• Take a boat offshore and look at the sky far away from city lights.
You don't need a telescope. The best gadget, veteran star gazers advise, is a lawn chair that reclines. You'll want to lie back and let your eyes adjust for a spell before you can see the streaks across the sky.
Contact Sharon Kennedy Wynne at [email protected] Follow @SharonKWn.