May 29, 2022

Sun sets in perfect alignment with New York grid to create “Manhattanhenge”

In the coming 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 takes place on four evenings every year, providing spectacular photo opportunities for New Yorkers and visitors alike.

The term refers to England’s Stonehenge, 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 the grid of Manhattan. So, it is perfectly framed by the concrete jungle of this great city,” Jacqueline Faherty, an astrophysicist from the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) in New York told Newsweek.

Manhattanhenge on July 12, 2019
People take pictures of the sun setting over Manhattan as seen from 42nd Street during “Manhattanhenge” on July 12, 2019 in New York City. Manhattanhenge happens when the sun set is perfectly aligned with the street grid of Manhattan.

The reason it occurs, according to Faherty, is that Manhattan’s cross streets happen to face, roughly, east-west. This creates a “bullseye” 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 with respect to the orbit it takes around the sun,” she said. “As such there are times when Manhattan is pointing more directly toward the sun (during summer) and times when it is less directly toward the Sun (during winter.)”

“On the dates of Manhattanhenge, our city is staring straight down the barrel at the sun around 93 million miles away right at the moment it sets below the horizon.”

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

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

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

The reason that Manhattanhenge only occurs at certain times of the year is that, contrary to popular wisdom, the point on the horizon at which the sun sets changes very slightly every day.

“Unnoticed by many, the sunset point actually creeps day to day along the horizon: northward until the first day of summer, then returning southward until the first day of winter,” Tyson said in a piece written for the AMNH.

“In spite of what pop culture tells you, the sun rises due east and sets due west only twice per year. On the equinoxes: the first day of spring and of autumn. Every other day, the sun rises and sets elsewhere on the horizon.”

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

“It is all about the angle. If you go off the grid by even a degree you will be out of alignment,” she said. “As long as you can see all the way across Manhattan to New Jersey, you will catch the event. I always tell people to decide by their favorite buildings and then map out a safe way to find yourself in the middle of the street.”

“The most famous locations to watch from are 42nd street (overpass above Tudor city or above Pershing square,) 34th street, 23rd street, 14th street, 72nd street, and my new favorite: 145th street,” she said.

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