PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — For star gazers and all those alike, tonight’s sky is set to reveal a feast for the eyes. One of the year’s most spectacular meteor showers peaks tonight and I talked with Derrick Pitts, Chief Astronomer and Planetarium Director at Philadelphia’s Franklin Institute about what to expect from the Perseids.
August has steamy days, warm nights and the Earth plowing into a comet debris field at 132,000 miles an hour. This celestial cataclysm results in a brilliant nighttime display known as the Perseid meteor shower.
“This is a situation when little tiny pieces of space rock, dust and dirt fall into the earth’s atmosphere and as they heat the earth’s atmosphere, they create and nice, glowing streak behind them,” explained Pitts.
As the Perseids peak tonight, the glowing streaks will be plentiful, during one of the year’s best meteor showers. Pitts explains, “it has one of the largest numbers of meteors seen per hour of any shower during the course of the year, there are really about 14 meteor showers, but only two are really good for seeing and one is the Perseids and it’s always available right around the same time August 12th.
The Perseids not only impresses with quantity, but with quality as well. “Another reason why the Perseids are so well known is because they create nice, bright, long streaks that are easy to see,” stated Pitts.
Not only will these shooting stars light up the sky, but a few stagnant cosmic companions will also grace the space-scape. Pitts reveals that; “the bright dot that viewers can see, not too far above the western horizon, will be the largest planet of the solar system, Jupiter, but there are two other planets to be seen as well. There’s Mars and Saturn, both over to the left from Jupiter around toward the south.”
All of these astronomical entities can be viewed without a telescope, all you need to do is ready your eyes and perhaps, as Derrick suggests; “take out some lawn chairs, a radio, bring some friends, some wine, and you can have a really wonderful astronomy evening.”