CHICAGO (CBS) — A free light show is on tap tonight, weather permitting, just above the horizon – as little pieces of a comet streak through Earth’s atmosphere.
The Perseids are little pieces of comet Swift-Tuttle running into earth’s atmosphere, creating an annual meteor shower.
“Those little bits of debris rain into the Earth’s atmosphere at speeds of about 130,000 miles an hour. Most of them just entirely burn up very high in the atmosphere, and make streaks of light that we see as a meteor shower,” said Adler Planetarium astronomer Mark Hammergren.
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The comet itself orbits the Sun once every 133 years. However, pieces of it speed through the Earth’s atmosphere every year, creating the Perseids meteor shower.
Hammergren said it’s kind of a slow-motion shower – maybe one streak per minute for an experienced viewer, with a clear sky, and dark surroundings.
For the average sky watcher in a major city like Chicago, “as your skies are brighter, because of light pollution, or if you just spend less time out there, and don’t get your eyes fully dark adapted, you won’t see as many. So it might be a few minutes, or even ten minutes, between seeing these meteors.”
Astronomers at the Adler will help the public see the meteor shower from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. at Catigny Park in Wheaton.