Manhattanhenge sounds like it’s maybe a druid-themed bar on the Lower East Side or something, but the phenomenon is actually more natural and akin to its obvious namesake.
And like many cool things that have to do with celestial bodies, we have Neil DeGrasse Tyson to thank for coining the term “Manhattanhenge,” a portmanteau of the city’s most notable borough, Manhattan, and a circle of standing stones in the south of England.
Just as the sun aligns with the stones on solstices, so too does the setting sun fall into line with the skyscrapers of the Big Apple on the days in which the semi-annual occurrence is visible. There is a date that usually falls at the end of each May and again at the beginning of July (also known as the “Manhattan solstices”), when Manhattanhenge is visible in certain parts of the city- ideally from an eligible rooftop with an ice cold beer or sangria as the sun sets over the busy grid of traffic.
Luckily for those of us who would like to learn a bit more about Manhattanhenge, Dr. Tyson wrote up an explanation of the phenomenon and explains Manhattanhenge’s 2012 dates:
“For Manhattan, a place where evening matters more than morning, that special day comes twice a year. For 2012 they fall on May 29th, and July 12th, when the setting Sun aligns precisely with the Manhattan 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.”
“…A rare and beautiful sight. These two days happen to correspond with Memorial Day and Baseball’s All Star break. Future anthropologists might conclude that, via the Sun, the people who called themselves Americans worshiped War and Baseball.”
You can read Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s full Manhattanhenge explanation over on the website of the Museum of Natural History.