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There's A Meteor Shower Starting Tuesday But Good Luck Seeing It From Chicago

By Gwendolyn Purdom in News on Jul 12, 2016 8:09PM

Photo from Chicagoist user The New No. 2

The twinkling city lights of the world's second best skyline are pretty and all, but let's get real, they can't compete with the actual glow of the night sky. Starting Tuesday, the Delta Aquarids meteor shower is set to illuminate the heavens for the remainder of the month--though if you're in Chicago, Adler Planetarium astronomer Mark Hammergren says the chances of you actually seeing the event aren't looking good.

"Chances are very poor," Hammergren said. "If you spent all night [looking at the sky], you might see one meteor. Light pollution is a huge issue in stargazing. The very best advice to see meteor shower is to get away from bright city lights."

Hammergren said places like Northwest Indiana, near the dunes, may offer better early morning (between midnight and dawn) sight-lines, as well as locations further west or south of the city. A few years ago, the Illinois Science Council recommended traveling north along the lakefront until the city lights are less prominent to view a summer meteor shower. Hammergren suggested aspiring sky-gazers contact their local amateur astronomy club to find out about nearby outings. The Chicago Astronomical Society is hosting viewing events in Willow Springs, Schaumburg, River Grove and along the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore in the coming weeks, according to the group's website.

When you're looking at a meteor shower like the Delta Aquarids, what you're seeing is little bits of stony dust that are burning up in the earth's atmosphere, Hammergren says, and because those bits of debris—most no bigger than a BB—come from specific comets, they follow the same orbit as those comets. It's the intersection of those paths with the earth's orbit that create showers, and it's when the earth passes through the middle of those streams of debris that peak viewing occurs. Peak viewing for the Delta Aquarids is estimated for around July 27 or 28.

While Hammergren classified the Delta Aquarids as one of the top ten major meteor showers of the year, next month's Perseid shower promises to be as many as six times bigger. The Adler Planetarium will host a viewing party for that shower Aug. 12 at Cantigny Park in west suburban Wheaton.

"Cantigny is about the best we can do," Hammergren said. "Even then we get a lot of light from Chicago, but it's always a fun time."