The Perseid meteor shower is the best and brightest meteor shower of the year, and because it passes through in the warm summer months, it's the best chance at seeing a shower in Chicago. Find out how to see the meteor shower in Chicago and where to look, below.
What is the Perseid meteor shower?
Commonly known as falling or shooting stars, meteors aren't stars at all. Meteors are actually debris from space that burns up as it hits the Earth's atmosphere, creating a bright streak that is possible to see in the night sky. Meteor showers are a specific event when several meteors appear from the same area of the sky when Earth passes through a debris field each year. The Perseid meteors are debris from Comet Swift-Tuttle and appear in the area of the sky where the constellation Perseus sits at this time of year, giving the meteor shower its name.
When can you see the Perseid meteor shower?
The Perseid meteor shower is visible from mid July to late August every year, but like all showers it peaks for just a couple nights. This year the meteor shower peaks on the early mornings of the 12th and 13th, but if you can't get out or the weather isn't optimal, don't give up just yet.
This year, the Perseids are visible through the 24th and if you are able to get to an area that is dark enough you still have a good chance of catching several meteors every hour. The hours between 3 am CDT and 5 am CDT, before the sun comes up are the busiest, but you have a pretty good chance of seeing several meteors in the sky as early as midnight.
Where to look for the Perseid meteor shower
The Perseids radiate from the constellation Perseus, a large and long constellation that fills the northeastern night sky. If you are unfamiliar with the constellation Perseus, but able to identify the much more compact Cassiopeia, focus on that general area for viewing as Cassiopeia resides in the same area of the sky.
If you are unfamiliar with the night sky entirely, determine which way is north east and look up. The meteors will be bright and produce enough light as they streak across the sky that you don't necessarily need to identify any constellations to find them.
How to observe the Perseid meteor shower
The best thing about meteor showers, and especially the Perseids, is that the entry level of knowledge and skill needed is basic. No telescope, binoculars, or special equipment is necessary. Simply get comfortable, a blanket or flat laying chairs are best, situate yourself in the darkest area you can find, avoid looking at lights (especially your smartphone), and keep your eyes open and peeled for streaks of light in the sky.
Astronomers record meteors per hour, so give yourself at least an hour of viewing time to tally how many you are able to spot.
Our favorite viewing areas
The most convenient viewing spot is the backyard, but even getting out of the subdivision and into a less light polluted area of the neighborhood is better. Short drives from Chicago include the far north suburbs, or the Illinois State Beach Park in Zion. Alternately, heading south to Indiana Dunes National Park is another great viewing area.
Reach out to friends that live in the suburbs or even further into McHenry or Dekalb County areas to see if they have a yard you can stake out in for a couple hours. Roscoe, Plainfield, and International Dark Sky Community Homer Glen are all great viewing areas for a night under the stars.
Overall, remember that with the level of light pollution that exists in Chicago, it takes time for your eyes to adjust to the dark and that the overall light in an area can greatly reduce visibility. You may only be able to see the brightest or portions of a longer streaking meteor, so give yourself time to adjust to the sky and enjoy the show.