How to: Experience Manhattanhenge

Step 1, naturally, is to be in Manhattan.

I'm in New York City today and Scientific American contributing editor Steven Ashley was kind enough to reminded me that my visit is coinciding with Manhattanhenge—a twice-a-year event when the sun lines up with Manhattan's street grid. This year, there will be a Manhattanhenge on May 29/30 and another on July 11/12.

You'll note that Manhattanhenge does not actually occur on the same day as the solstice—when the Sun is at the highest point in the sky and the length of the day begins to get either longer (winter solstice) or shorter (summer solstice). That's because Manhattan's grid is rotated 30 degrees east off of true north, writes Neil deGrasse Tyson on the Hayden Planetarium website. That's enough to make Manhattanhenge less astronomically accurate than Stonehenge. But it's still awfully nifty and is supposed to look really, really cool.

Tonight's event should start around 8:17 pm (Eastern time, of course). Here's Neil deGrasse Tyson's advice on getting a good view:

For best effect, position yourself as far east in Manhattan as possible. But ensure that when you look west across the avenues you can still see New Jersey. Clear cross streets include 14th, 23rd, 34th. 42nd, 57th, and several streets adjacent to them. The Empire State building and the Chrysler building render 34th street and 42nd streets especially striking vistas.

Note that any city crossed by a rectangular grid can identify days where the setting Sun aligns with their streets. But a closer look at such cities around the world shows them to be less than ideal for this purpose. Beyond the grid you need a clear view to the horizon, as Manhattan has across the Hudson River to New Jersey. And tall buildings that line the streets create a vertical channel to frame the setting Sun, creating a striking photographic opportunity.

Read the rest at the Hayden Planetarium website

Check out some reader-submitted photos of Manhattanhenge that Xeni posted last year.

Image: Manhattanhenge 2011 | The Commuter, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from 59949757@N06's photostream


  1. I thought this might be the reason the sun seemed so hard to avoid on the crosstown commute this morning.

    1.  I’m a moron, since today’s Manhattanhenge was all about the evening (the morning Manhattanhenge happens in the winter).

  2.  People complain that the rent in NYC is too damn high. That’s because you’re not just paying for the apartment, but for being able to experience things like casually on your bike ride home from work.

  3. Actually, being outside of Manhattan can give you a great view – I recommend Gantry Plaza State Park in Long Island City…

  4. Like many things American, the term ‘henge’ used in this way is a significant perversion of the term referring to a raised ditch and bank structure.

    Especially so when the original referent in this case appears to be Stonehenge which doesn’t exhibit a typical henge and is thus a misnomer further blurring the concept:

    1. O noes. We’re misusing a word which hasn’t had a practical use in half a millennium.

      1. You bastards! The English language is not a toy! It’s for serious things, like the Internet! Knock it off or Richard will come back!

    2. And for Richard’s next act, he will explain why it makes no sense to append the suffix “-gate” to each and every American political scandal.

  5. You can get a similar effect just about any sunny winter day if you cross one of the non-Broadway avenues by looking south mid-day. Take a second to look downtown when crossing an avenue (with the light, please). It’s not Manhattan-henge, but it can be pretty impressive.

  6. It seems some have forgotten that there are 2 other boroughs of New York City to the east of Manhattan, known as “Brooklyn” and “Queens”.  This phenomenon can be observed from the East River waterfront in both boroughs, and looks even more spectacular than it does within Manhattan.

    1. Actually the Bronx is east of Manhattan as well. North and east, but east at least as much as north.

  7. Note that any city crossed by a rectangular grid can identify days where the setting Sun aligns with their streets.

    Not so.  The sun’s total excursion in azimuth at sunset over the course of a year is around 46 degrees at the equator, and increases as you move toward the poles.  But in most of the tropical/temperate world, it’s less than 90 degrees – so there are always some possible rectilinear grid alignments that won’t ever align with the setting sun.

    LA’s Historic Core along Broadway and its newer skyscraper clot on Bunker Hill are on one such grid.  It never aligns with the setting sun.  

    (It’s mostly Edward O.C. Ord‘s fault.)

  8. I’m watching for  Campanile-Henge (Sather Tower) on the UC Berkeley campus using the sunrise over the Berkeley hills.

  9.  When will that be?

    I’m guessing that a Portlandhenge is well nigh impossible – we sit in the a valley flanked pretty effectively on the east and west sides by hills that block good views of the horizon.

  10.  I’ve watched the campanile’s shadow sweep over the main road through campus this past week at sunrise + when the sun clears the hills around 6:45 a.m.

    The campus historic core is aimed directly at the Golden Gate, the later campus is on a NSEW grid. so I  think I’ll go up for sunset.

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