“Manhattanhenge” is generating chatter again as the phenomenon is coming to an end for the year on Tuesday—but what the hell is it? If you live in New York City (or follow someone who does on social media) you’ve probably seen something about Manhattanhenge, which takes place when the sun sets perfectly between the buildings that make up the city’s iconic skyline. People stop to take pictures of the event, which is rarer than you might think. Here’s what Manhattanhenge is all about and whether you might have something similar in your city.
What is Manhattanhenge?
True Manhattanhenge only happens twice per year, according to the American Museum of Natural History. Per astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, who penned an explainer for the museum, on two days annually, the setting sun aligns precisely with Manhattan’s street grid, “creating a radiant glow of light across Manhattan’s brick and steel canyons, simultaneously illuminating both the north and south sides of every cross street of the borough’s grid.”
Sometimes, you’ll see less informed people posting sunset pics from Manhattan and incorrectly captioning them Manhattanhenge. While sunsets are always beautiful (and photographable), they’re not always a true Manhattanhenge. Notably, the two days take place in spring and mid-summer, but the day after each also counts as a sort of half-Manhattanhenge, as half the sun’s disk will set above the horizon. On the true Manhattanhenge days, the full disk is above the horizon. All four of these days are suitable for wonderment and picture-taking, though.
Manhattan’s main east-west streets are the best places to see Manhattanhenge as the sun sets, so that means you should head to 14th, 23rd, 34th, 42nd, or 57th streets. It can also be seen from Hunter’s Point South Park in Long Island City.
The name, by the way, is a reference to Stonehenge, the prehistoric arrangement of vertical stones in England. On the summer solstice each year, the sun rises in alignment with a number of those stones, which used to tell the people back then that a new season was coming.
Do all cities have a -henge?
The American Museum of Natural History has good news for non-New Yorkers: “Note that any city crossed by a rectangular grid can identify days where the setting sun aligns with their streets.”
And now here’s the bad news: “But a closer look at such cities around the world shows them to be less than ideal for this purpose.”
What makes Manhattanhenge work so well are the straight lines of the city’s grid, the clear view of the horizon they offer, and the tall, vertical buildings that line those streets and frame the scene. There are, however, some cities that have their own -henges. Baltimore has a version of it, as do Chicago and Toronto.
Your local sun-and-buildings alignment might not be the exact same as New York’s infamous version, but it’s worth a quick Google to determine where, when, and how you can see the phenomenon yourself wherever you are.
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