‘Manhattanhenge’ Hits New York Tonight At Sunset
It’s a dramatic way to cap off a three-day holiday weekend in the Big Apple. The feature of astronomical geometry and urban architecture known as “Manhattanhenge” happens on May 29 when the setting sun lines up perfectly with New York City’s grid of streets on the island of Manhattan.
Just as the legendary stones at the UK’s Stonehenge were aligned by some ancient engineers so that the sun set in between a few of the stones on the summer solstice, the sun lines up with Manhattan’s nearly perfect rectangular street at sunset twice a year. Usually the dates fall around Memorial Day and in the middle of July. Notably, these two days are roughly equidistant from summer solstice.
In 2023, the first of the Manhattanhenge sunsets start today, Memorial Day or May 29. It will happen again on July 13 as well.
New Yorkers will actually get two days in a row of well-aligned sunsets. On the first evening, about half of the sun’s disc is visible on the horizon and the following day you can see the full disc of the sun between the buildings briefly.
Some of you who don’t spend much time obsessing about the nuances of the sun’s movements might be a little confused at this point. Don’t we all know that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, end of story?
But as any skywatcher will tell you, it’s more complex than that thanks to the fact that Earth doesn’t spin on its axis straight up down, but rather our planet tilts about 23 degrees. This is what gives us our seasons and what makes the sun rise high in the sky on summer days compared to during winter.
This means that the sun is rising and setting in a slightly different place and time from any given location on the Earth from one day to the next as we orbit the sun tilted to one side. In fact, you only get a sunset due west on the spring and autumn equinoxes.
Manhattan’s street grid isn’t lined up perfectly east to west, nor is it lined up like Stonehenge to get the solstice effect. Instead, it’s rotated about 30 degrees from due north, which means the sunset lines up perfectly with the grid a few evenings in late May and around the second week of July.
The phrase “Manhattanhenge” was coined by famed astronomer Neil deGrasse Tyson years ago and has since been added to the dictionary.
If you’re in New York tonight, Tyson recommends viewing the sunset from a few of the city’s major cross streets running east to west, such as 14th, 23rd, 34th, 42nd or 57th streets.
“Find a spot as far east as possible that still has views of New Jersey across the Hudson River,” he writes.
The Tudor City Overpass is another prime viewing spot. Outside Manhattan, Hunter’s Point South Park in Long Island City, Queens also works.