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Watching tonight's Orionid meteor shower? Location is key

October 20, 2012 |  6:26 pm

Orionid meteor shower

Experts offered two main tips for watching the Orionid meteor shower:

First, get into as dark an area as possible.

Then lie on your back and look to the skies.

The shower, which occurs each October and will be at peak visibility from after midnight Saturday to dawn Sunday morning, is the result of dust from Halley's Comet hitting Earth's atmosphere as the planet travels through space in its orbit around the sun. At peak time, 20 or so meteors are expected to flash across the sky each hour.

Every year around mid-October, debris from the comet hits the edge of Earth's atmosphere. The debris is moving really fast -- roughly 148,000 mph -- and burns up when it hits the atmosphere, causing the flash of light we see.

Q&A: Orionid meteor show explained

Heavy cloud cover is expected overnight in much of the Los Angeles area, but for people in clear spots: Experts said the most important advice to those hoping to see the meteor shower is to get away from bright city lights.

"My first advice for seeing it in L.A. would be to get out of L.A.," Bill Cooke, who runs NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office, joked during an interview Friday. He said those watching from downtown and other heavily illuminated areas might be able to see some meteors but would miss most of them.

"If you are near bright city lights, you'll only be able to see the brightest meteors," he said.

The best bet for L.A.-area residents is to head out of the urban areas and into the hills, said Laura Danly, curator at the Griffith Observatory.


"One good bet would be Mulholland Drive," Danly said Friday. "If you're a little more ambitious, you could get a great view by going up to Mt. Wilson or Mt. Baldy."

People who would rather watch from home, Danly said, should turn off all house lights and try to get their neighbors to engage in a blackout as well. "Anywhere that's removed from artificial lights should lend [itself] to a good view," she said.

And how to watch it? Cook says the best way to see the shower is to lay flat on your back and look straight up. Use just your eyes -- you don’t need binoculars or a telescope -- because the meteors can appear anywhere in the sky, so you need a broad view. It usually takes about three minutes for a person's eyes to "dark adapt," so if you want to see the shower, you need to commit to spending a good hour outside.

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-- Wesley Lowery

Photo: The Orionid meteor shower as seen earlier this week in Palo Alto. Credit: Associated Press

Follow Lowery on Twitter and Google+.

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