Set Your Sights on the ‘Chicagohenge’ Equinox Sunset

Chicago's east-west streets are the best place to view the fall equinox sunset. (Patty Wetli / WTTW)Chicago's east-west streets are the best place to view the fall equinox sunset. (Patty Wetli / WTTW)

The fall equinox technically occurred at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday in Chicago, though you’d be forgiven for not having noticed. Leaves didn’t immediately change color, the temperature didn’t plummet, and the air didn’t take on the aroma of pumpkin spice. 

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But the seasonal shift — which marks one of two moments in the year when the sun is exactly above the equator — will make itself spectacularly apparent at sunset.

That’s when the unmistakable and highly anticipated “Chicagohenge” occurs. During the fall and spring equinoxes, the sun rises due east and sets due west, creating an effect dubbed Chicagohenge (in reference to Stonehenge), when the sunset is strikingly framed by the city’s skyscrapers.

Photography buffs scramble to capture Chicagohenge at its most dazzling, centered in downtown’s architectural canyons. But the phenomenon is visible from any of the city’s east-west streets, said Michelle Nichols, director of public observing at the Adler Planetarium.

On wider streets, the effect will linger for a couple of days, she added.

This year’s equinox sunset will be a deeper shade of orange than normal, due to lingering smoke in the upper atmosphere, which has wafted into the area from the West Coast wildfires.

Under normal conditions, Earth’s atmosphere scatters the sun’s blue light. Particles from the wildfires are heightening that filtering of blue light, making the sun’s red light even more prominent, Nichols explained. 

As long as folks are already outside enjoying the equinox sunset, they might as well stick around for another celestial show: The International Space Station will be visible in the early evening sky for the next few days, Nichols said.

It’s bright enough to be seen with the naked eye, said Nichols, who advised against trying to use a telescope, largely because the space station moves too quickly to catch with a fixed lens.

“It will look like an unblinking airplane,” she said. 

For more information on how best to see the space station, visit NASA’s “Spot the Station” website.

Contact Patty Wetli: @pattywetli | (773) 509-5623 |  [email protected]

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