The Perseid meteor shower, the marquee night-gazing event of the summer, peaks Tuesday morning. The cascade of shooting stars, originating in the constellation Perseus, will generate up to two meteors per minute.
The best time to see the meteors is after about 1:30 a.m., when the moon has set and much of its glare has been eliminated. The Perseus constellation will be the northeast section of the sky, but the meteors get brighter and longer as they rocket away from the radiant, their point of origination.
Astronomy buffs say the best way to see the meteors is to lie on your back and try to take in as much of the sky as possible.
For the best view of the showers, find a remote, dark area, far from the light pollution generated by major population centers. That's not as easy as it sounds. From a nighttime satellite photo, Southern California looks like one mega population center. To help you, we've put together a few suggestions of nighttime observing spots in Southern California.
* Joshua Tree National Park. We know what you are thinking: I'd be nuts to head into the burning desert in August. Sure, triple-digit temperatures can reach the broiling point during the daytime, but nights in Joshua Tree are usually pleasant and cool -- and the sky is nearly untarnished by light pollution. Another plus: Your view of the sky is mostly unobscured by trees. Click here for directions.
* Red Rock Canyon State Park. Yes, it's another desert location, but like Joshua Tree the nighttime views are well worth the daytime heat. The park, at the southernmost tip of where the Sierra Nevada mountain range converges with the El Paso Range, has only one campground, Ricardo Campground, which is tucked up against the base of White House Cliffs. The sandstone cliffs make the night sky spectacle that much more dramatic. Click here for more info.
* Mount Pinos. This 8,831-foot peak on the border of Ventura and Kern counties is far enough from any major light sources to offer a great dark-sky view of the meteor shower. But you don't have to make the steep hike to the summit. Most amateur astronomers go to the tree-bordered parking lot about two miles east of the peak. Click here for directions.
* Kennedy Meadows. This campground sits at 6,100 feet above sea level along the South Fork of the Kern River in the Southern Sierra Nevada. It's a favorite among trout-hunting anglers but star gazers also rank it as one of the best places in the country for getting an undiluted view of the night skies. Although getting to his campground is quite a trek, visitors will be rewarded with a spectacular view. Directions: From U.S. 395, just north of the Inyo County line, take Ninemile Canyon Road west for about 25 miles and follow the signs to Kennedy Meadows. The campground has 38 sites, bathrooms and running water. Overnight fees: $5. A small general store operates on the road just outside the campground.
* Anza Borrego Desert State Park. California's largest state park on the eastern end of San Diego County is another great dark-sky desert park far from the glare of city lights. Local astronomy buffs congregate at the campgrounds in Culp Valley, about 10 miles southwest of the park's visitor center along County Road 22. Click here for more information.