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Leonids Meteor Shower Peaks Tonight -- When To Watch

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) -- The Leonids meteor shower begins in the skies over the Bay Area Tuesday night.

Some previous Leonid showers have produced tens of thousands of meteors per hour, but viewers should expect at most 10 to 20 per hour this year.

Leonid meteors are the fastest shooting stars, hitting Earth's atmosphere at about 162,000 mph (261,000 km per hour), according to skywatching columnist Joe Rao -- so the shower can produce spectacular and memorable fireballs.

The moon sets just after midnight Nov. 17, providing a decently dark sky for the viewing. However, the pre-dawn hours is the best time to spot a meteor.

To sound really knowledgeable, or to win at pub quizzes, the term "meteor" describes a space rock of some kind that enters earth's atmosphere.  Here are the other terms that are often tossed around:

ASTEROID: A large body in space orbiting the sun, from a few feet to several hundred miles in size, often made of iron.  A "comet" is similar, but made of other materials, usually dust and water that form a long, glowing tail.

METEOROID:  A small rock or dust in space.

METEOR: A meteoroid or asteroid or comet that has entered earth's atmosphere.  A "shooting star" or a "falling star" are meteors.

METEORITE:  A space rock that has landed, intact, on the surface of earth.  Meteorite hunters go around after reports of large meteors and meteor explosions, looking for these incredibly valuable fragments.

Gregg Rosenblum contributed to this story.

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