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There's A Meteor Shower Tonight, And Here Are Some Good Spots To Watch It
The Draconid meteor shower peaks on Friday night! Best viewed between sunset and midnight, the Draconids will kick off a good season of meteor watching through fall and into winter, according to IFL Science.
Named for the Draco the Dragon constellation from which they seem to come from, the Draconid shower will feature slow moving meteors lolling their way across the sky. Though there won't be too many, you can expect to see several meteors per hour while it's going on. The Draconids coincide with the Orionid meteor shower, but that shower isn't set to peak until October 20, according to Popular Mechanics.
Los Angeles, of course, is notorious for its meteor-obscuring light pollution. Who among us hasn't looked up at the sky on an overcast night and noticed the peculiar gray glow that seems to emanate from the clouds. Luckily, there are a few places somewhat close to L.A. that have relatively dark skies. Assembled below are a some choice spots where you can get away from L.A.'s light that aren't so far away. And here's a map with a light pollution overlay you can use to find other dark spots.
Red Box Road, up to Mount Wilson. (Photo by Mike Hume via LAist Pool of Photos on Flickr.)
Angeles Crest Highway: This is my favorite road. Cut through the pitches and slopes of the San Gabriel Mountains, Angeles Crest Highway snakes nearly through nearly 60 miles of picturesque chaparral just north of L.A., climbing several thousand feet along the way. The sky is very dark along the road's entire route, though light pollution from Los Angeles creeps in from the south.
Mt. Wilson Observatory is off Angeles Crest, as is Newcomb's Ranch, as well as dozens of other lovely spots suitable for meteor watching and star gazing.
If you choose to drive up Angeles Crest, be wary that you'll likely be leaving cell-service behind. Make sure you've got a full tank of gas, and bring along warm clothes as it can quite chilly at high altitudes. When you find a suitable spot, pull your car off the road into a turnout. You probably don't have to go up that far, and there are lots of locations with safe parking near the junction of Angeles Crest and Angeles Forest Highways (called Clear Creek Junction). Mt. Wilson Observatory is just a few miles farther (BYO-Water). Though Mt. Wilson can give you some seriously stunning views of Los Angeles's lights at night (think Griffith Park, but much much bigger), it might not be the best spot for meteor watching.
To get there, navigate yourself towards La Canada Flintridge. You can exit directly onto Angeles Crest from the 210 freeway. From there, you can either stock up with some food or snacks from the convenience stores and eateries at Foothill, or you can just start driving up. Mt. Wilson is about a 35 minute drive from the base of Angeles Crest.
Milky Way seen through a sea cave at Leo Carillo State Park (Photo courtesy of Jack Fusco)
Malibu: Maybe the mountains aren't your thing. Perhaps you'd rather stargaze along the coast? If so, Malibu is the place for you. Shielded by the Santa Monica Mountains to the north, the skies towards the western end of Malibu are dark enough to see the Milky Way.
Getting there is as simple as driving on PCH. Head towards Leo Carillo State Beach. That's where the the picture above was shot. While the beach officially closes at ten, it won't be too challenging to find a good spot somewhere in the vicinity.
If you choose to go to Malibu, make sure to dress warmly. It can get quite cold! Also be wary that the marine layer usually begins rolling around midnight.
The Perseid Meteor Shower over Joshua Tree National Park, August 2012. (Photo by Nate2b via the Creative Commons on Flickr)
The High Desert: Clear and dark skies are what the high desert promise, though it is an awfully big place. If you're looking for something close(ish) to L.A., take the 5 Freeway north to its junction with the 14 Freeway. You can take the 14 as long as you want, potentially passing Palmdale and Lancaster along the way. A good spot, closer than Palmdale, will be the area around Vazquez Rocks. The area around Aqua Dulce and Acton have relativly dark skies, and they aren't too far away, just over an hour from downtown in good traffic.
If you're feeling more ambitious, you could keep heading north to Palmdale, detouring along CA-138 (Pearblossom Highway) to the high-desert foothills along the north slope of the San Gabriel Mountains. Dress warmly!
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