The sun sets in perfect alignment with the grid of New York to create “Manhattanhenge”


In the next few days, the sun will set in perfect alignment with Manhattan’s street grid to create the stunning phenomenon that has been dubbed “Manhattanhenge.”

This phenomenon occurs four nights a year, providing spectacular photo opportunities for New Yorkers and visitors alike.

The term refers to Stonehenge in England, which was built in such a way that on the day of the summer solstice the sun rises in perfect alignment with several of the stones.

“Manhattanhenge is a name coined by Neil deGrasse Tyson for the days of the year when the sun sets perfectly aligned with Manhattan’s grid. Thus, it is perfectly framed by the concrete jungle of this great city,” Jacqueline said. Faherty, an astrophysicist from the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) in New York says Newsweek.

People take photos of the sun setting over Manhattan as seen from 42nd Street during “Manhattanhenge” on July 12, 2019 in New York City. Manhattanhenge occurs when the sunset is perfectly aligned with the Manhattan street grid.
JOHANNES EISELE/AFP via Getty Images

The reason this happens, according to Faherty, is that Manhattan’s cross streets face, roughly, east-west. This creates a “bull’s eye” for the sun to hit when it sets on or around May 29 and July 11.

“All of this is attributable to the fact that the Earth is tilted 23.5 degrees from the orbit it takes around the sun,” she said. “As such, there are times when Manhattan points more directly toward the sun (in summer) and times when it’s less directly toward the sun (in winter.)”

“On the Manhattanhenge dates, our city is looking directly at the sun about 93 million miles away as it sets below the horizon.”

In 2022, the first set of Manhattanhenge dates fall on Memorial Day weekend. On Sunday, May 29, half of the disc of the setting sun will be visible on the grid at 8:13 p.m. ET. Then on Monday, May 30, the full sun disk will be visible on the grid at 8:12 p.m. ET.

The second set of dates falls on July 11 and 12 when full sun and half sun will be seen on the grid at 8:20 p.m. and 8:21 p.m. respectively.

Also, “everyone should remember that between May 29 and July 12 we get the ‘Manhattanhenge Effect,’ which is where the sun appears between the city grid as it’s low in the sky and sets but it doesn’t quite kiss the grid as it settles,” Faherty said.

The reason Manhattanhenge only occurs at certain times of the year is that, contrary to popular wisdom, the point on the horizon where the sun sets changes ever so slightly each day.

“Unnoticed by many, the sunset point actually crawls day by day along the horizon: northward until the first day of summer, then back southward until the first day of summer. ‘winter,” Tyson said in an article written for the AMNH.

“Despite what pop culture tells you, the sun rises in the east and sets in the west only twice a year. At the equinoxes: the first day of spring and fall. Every other day, the sun rises and sets elsewhere on the horizon.

According to Faherty, you usually have to be on the Manhattan street grid to see the event.

“It’s all about the angle. If you go off the grid even one degree, you’ll be misaligned,” she said. “As long as you can see all of Manhattan down to New Jersey, you’ll see the event. I always tell people to pick their favorite buildings and then find a safe way to meet in the middle of the street.”

“The most famous places to look are 42nd Street (overpass over Tudor Town or over Pershing Square), 34th Street, 23rd Street, 14th Street, 72nd Street and my new favorite: 145th Street,” she said.


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