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How Halley's Comet will spark tonight's meteor shower

The second meteor shower in as many weeks will dazzle the eyes of stargazers around the globe tonight.

The second meteor shower in as many weeks will dazzle the eyes of stargazers around the globe, but the light show will be battling against the glow of a nearly full moon when it reaches its peak.

The Eta Aquarids is an annual meteor shower in early May, and this year, reaches its climax on Monday night and the pre-dawn hours of Tuesday morning.

"This shower happens to be one of if not the best in the Southern Hemisphere," AccuWeather Astronomy Blogger Dave Samuhel said. "It is a moderate shower for the Northern Hemisphere."

People living south of the equator may count as many as 40 shooting stars per hour at the height of the celestial light show, the American Meteor Society (AMS) said. This includes Australia, New Zealand, Africa and South America.

"From the equator northward, they usually only produce medium rates of 10-30 per hour just before dawn," the AMS added.

This year, the meteor shower will be peaking just two nights before the final supermoon of 2020. The bright moon may make it difficult to see some of the fainter meteors, but it should not completely wash out the shower.

Of course, weather and cloud cover will significantly factor into how well sky gazers in different parts of the country are able to witness the meteor shower.

Onlookers across the southern U.S. and the interior West are forecast to have the best viewing contains for 2020's iteration of the Eta Aquarids. Mainly clear conditions are also on tap for parts of New England and into Quebec.

A storm gathering over the central U.S. will spread disruptive clouds over much of the Midwest and into parts of Appalachia, obscuring the night sky.

Clouds could also spoil the meteor shower over the Pacific Northwest as a storm moves into the region.

The Eta Aquarids will be active on the nights leading up to and immediately following the peak, so people that have cloudy weather on Monday night may be able to spot some shooting stars later in the week when the clouds clear.

No special equipment is needed to watch a meteor shower, although people should pack some patience when heading out to spend some time under the stars.

"Give yourself a solid hour to look for meteors. Get comfortable. Lay down on a blanket, or a reclining chair," Samuhel said.

People should also avoid looking toward the moon, which will be above the horizon for most of the night. Looking at the moon can make it harder to see meteors, so try to focus in the darkest part of the sky.

Credit: AccuWeather
Where to see the Aquarids in 2020.

The best time to watch the meteor shower will be after midnight once the shower's radiant point climbs above the horizon.

The radiant point is simply the part of the sky where the meteors originate, but you do not need to look in this direction so spot meteors. However, as the radiant point climbs higher in the sky, more and more meteors will able to be seen.

Many of the meteor showers throughout the year are caused by debris left behind by comets when they visit the inner solar system. When this debris enters the Earth's atmosphere, it burns incredibly bright for a few brief seconds.

"The majority of visible meteors are caused by particles ranging in size from about that of a small pebble down to a grain of sand, and generally weigh less than 1-2 grams," the AMS said.

The debris that causes the Eta Aquarids is actually dust left behind by one of the most famous comets - Halley's Comet.

Halley's Comet only orbits the sun once every 75 years, but each year in early May, the Earth passes through some of the debris that it left behind.

"The Eta Aquarids are one of two meteor showers sparked by Halley's comet. The other being the Orionids in October."

Credit: AccuWeather
What are shooting stars? This graphic explains.

People that miss out on the Eta Aquarids will need to wait a few months before the next opportunity to catch a meteor shower.

According to the AMS, the next major meteor shower will not peak until late July.