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Orionids meteor shower begins to light up night sky

October 18, 2012 |  1:26 pm

Star gazers, take note: The Orionid meteor shower is back.

The annual show — named because the meteors appear to come from the constellation Orion — occurs each October as the Earth, in its orbit around the sun, passes through a trail of dust left by Halley's Comet, according to NASA. The shower typically produces about 20 meteors per hour, but has intensified in recent years.

"Since 2006, the Orionids have been one of the best showers of the year, with counts in some years up to 60 or more meteors per hour," Bill Cooke, of NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office, said in a statement.

Sunday before sunrise should be the peak time for those hoping to get a glimpse of the meteors, NASA said, as Earth passes through the densest patch of the comet's debris. You won't need a telescope — to spot the shower, the agency said on its website, just "wake up a few hours before dawn, go outside and look up."

Residents across Northern California saw bright lights and heard loud booms across the night sky Wednesday, the Contra Costa Times reported, and National Weather Service officials said cloud-free skies and warm temperatures made the meteors particularly easy to spot.

In Los Angeles, the Griffith Observatory said the brightest meteors would be visible from "suburban locations" and the best time to see them would be between 11 p.m. Saturday and 5:30 a.m. Sunday.

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-- Kate Mather

Follow Kate Mather on Twitter or Google+.

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