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Where To See The Orionid Meteor Shower In And Around L.A.

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Orionid meteor shower. (Photo via Wikimedia Commons)
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Look up! The annual Orionid meteor shower is hitting the skies tonight, and it's shaping up to be a pretty epic show. According to NASA, this year's Orionids are technically be active from October 4 to November 14, but they will be peaking tonight and in the wee hours of tomorrow morning. The best time for viewing will be just before dawn on Friday morning.

Contrary to popular belief, meteor showers have nothing to do with shooting "stars." They are actually made up of little pieces of cosmic debris called meteoroids (hence the name) streaming into Earth's atmosphere at super fast speeds.

What you are actually seeing with the Orionid meteor shower is space litter from Halley's Comet. Halley's Comet—not to be confused with the comet that inspired 39 Heaven's Gate members to commit mass suicide, that was Comet Hale-Bopp—is only visible from Earth every 75 years. It last appeared in the inner parts of the Solar System in 1986. You can pencil the next Halley viewing into your calendar for mid-2061, though if you are 33 or older you will probably be dead by then (average American human life span = 78 years, the rest is simple math).

Stuart Seto, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, told LAist that it looks like clear skies ahead for both the city and the surrounding coastal and mountain regions on Thursday and Friday night. There may be more cloud cover (and less visibility) on Saturday as a low-pressure system moves down towards Los Angeles.

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That said, the real threat to sky-show visibility isn't clouds so much as light pollution. According to Stephen J. Edberg, an astronomer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, "Our cities generate a lot of light that wipe out everything but the brightest stars, so you'll want to be somewhere that is as dark as possible." This year's Orionid shower, however, may also be marred by light from a more natural source: the moon. The waning gibbous moon will not only be visible in the sky almost all night long, but more than half (62 percent, to be exact) of its surface will be illuminated when the shower peaks early Friday morning.

The Orionids appear to generate from the Orion constellation, so that's where you should be looking in the sky. For an optimal viewing experience, NASA scientists also recommend getting yourself situated in the dark at least thirty minutes before you're planning to watch so your eyes have time to adjust.

Some relatively easy locations for viewing include the Angeles Crest Highway (just start driving until you find a nice place to pull over), the Parker Mesa Overlook in Malibu, Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve in western L.A. County/the near side of Ventura, and Los Arboles Rocketship Park in Torrance. You can also evaluate possible locales using this handy light pollution map.

Below is a more comprehensive map some of viewing locations in and around Los Angeles. The orange pins are places roughly within an hour of downtown L.A., and the blue ones are further afield (click on any for more information).