Twice a year, Chicago’s skyline perfectly aligns with the sunset and the city is painted orange – the phenomenon, Chicagohenge is arguably the most picturesque time of the year. Each year, residents storm to the clearest view of the city’s skyline and pose for a picture.
“The sunrise looks like it’s kissing the city, it shines all throughout every crevice during the fall equinox and it’s beautiful,” astrophysicist Colin deGrasse told USA TODAY.
Chicagohenge occurs during the spring and fall equinoxes. The city-wide sunrise is visible for about the week before and after the equinox. If you miss it, you’ll have to wait six more months. The spring equinox falls on Sunday, March 20, 2022.
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Why does it happen?
It’s mostly thanks to Chicago’s city grid design which makes the city more walkable, navigable and also provides the perfect view during the equinoxes, deGrasse said.
When the spring and fall equinoxes hit, the sun shines equally on both hemispheres, and rises and sets directly to the east and west. DeGrasse said Chicago’s street grid matches almost exactly with the points of the compass. The rising and setting equinox sun aligns with the street grid and the sunrise is framed perfectly between the city’s buildings, deGrasse said.
“Chicago just happens to have the perfect combination. The city has the right grid at the right time for the equinoxes to shine through,” deGrasse said.
Where and when can I see it?
The fall equinox falls on September 22 and the sunrise can be seen a week before and after, deGrasse said.
You’ll be able to see the sunrise from just about any east-west street works. A location without many obstructions such as buildings would be best. DeGrasse recommends the rooftop of a building or skyscraper or even on top of a bridge.
Where does the name come from?
The phenomenon is named after Stonehenge, a formation of massive stones erected more than 4,000 years ago, deGrasse said. In specific months, the rising and setting sun would line up with the stones much like the sunrise now lines up with city’s grid systems, deGrasse said. This discovery at Stonehenge led some scientists to suggest it could have been an astronomical calendar.
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Do other cities have henges?
Chicagohenge is not unique, the occurrence also takes place in Manhattan, known as Manhattanhenge. In 2022, it will take place on May 29 and July 12. Tourists will often plan their vacation trips to witness the sunrise “beautifully hit the streets,” deGrasse said.
“This henge occurrence in every city is celebrated. It’s a beautiful way to see the equinox make its magic,” deGrasse said. “Twice a year we get a chance to see something out of a painting or movie.”
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