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Meteor shower early Tuesday morning: How to watch

May 6 marks the peak of Eta Aquarids, a brilliantly fast meteor shower that will trail the night sky.

CBS News Staff
An Eta Aquarid meteor streaks over northern Georgia on April 29, 2012. NASA

Night owls and early-morning risers, don't forget to look toward the sky in the wee hours on Tuesday morning. You just might get the chance to see a meteor shower.

Eta Aquarids, a meteor shower that occurs annually and peaks during early May, is known for its speed. Traveling about 148,000 miles per hour -- 44 miles per second -- into Earth's atmosphere, these meteors can leave glowing bits of debris in the sky, lasting for several seconds to minutes, according to NASA.

Visible from both the Northern and Southern hemispheres, the peak-activity meteor count is higher in the Southern hemisphere than in the Northern, which is 45 meteors per hour in the Southern versus only 10 meteors in the Northern hemisphere.

This is due to the difference in latitude that the radiant -- the point in the sky from which meteors appear to originate -- appears to the observer. For observers in the Southern hemisphere, the constellation of Aquarius appears higher in the sky, resulting in what looks to be more meteors.

There will be several meteor showers going on at once, notes CBS San Francisco. To make certain that you are watching the Eta Aquarids, trace the meteor to its radiant. If the origin is the constellation of Aquarius, you are watching the correct one.

To get a better view of the meteor shower, NASA suggests stargazers get away from city and street lights. However, poor weather conditions could prevent them from seeing it as well, as there are reports of cloudy skies for Monday night into Tuesday morning.

The space debris that creates the Eta Aquarids originates from Comet Halley. Named after British astronomer Edmund Halley, the comet takes about 76 years to orbit the sun once -- last appearing in 1986 and appearing again in 2061. The space debris, a mixture of rock and ice, is shed from Comet Halley each time it enters the solar system. The mixture, if it collides with Earth's atmosphere, becomes the Eta Aquarids in May and the Orionids in October, according to NASA.

Meteors themselves come from the bits of ice and rocks that come after contact with the sun. When the Earth passes through the bits and pieces of debris that form, the meteors often come in contact with the planet's atmosphere, causing disintegration and leaving a fiery streak across the night sky.

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