Manhattanhenge brightens Memorial Day skies this evening for New Yorkers as the sun aligns with the city’s east-west streets. The solar alignment with the city’s street grid occurs twice a year in a phenomenon that has become hugely popular with tourists and veteran New Yorkers alike.
According to CNN, tonight at approximately 8:12 p.m. EST and again on Monday, May 30, at the same time, the sun will apparently set right between New York City’s numbered streets. The sun’s setting rays will be reflected in all the street and store fronts and cast a visible fiery glow onto the street. If you miss Manhattanhenge this time around, there will be another solar display on July 11 and 12.
Today, May 29, spectators will be able to see a half sunset flooding the city’s streets with an orange-red glow. Tomorrow, on May 30, a full sunset will be on view. Manhattanhenge doesn’t always occur exactly on the Memorial Day weekend. Each year, the dates of Manhattanhenge are spaced equally around the summer solstice, which occurs when the sun is at its closest point to Earth.
Manhattanhenge is has become a not to be missed event with tourists and locals alike. People gather in various spots to capture the best images of the solar phenomenon. The crowds looking to capture the images are known to stop traffic to take their shots or sit for hours to stake out a prime spot for the display. Given the Memorial Day holiday, crowds are likely to be even bigger than usual.
Neil deGrasse Tyson And Manhattanhenge
Neil deGrasse Tyson, director of New York’s Hayden Planetarium, is the person who coined the term “Manhattanhenge.” On a trip to the British Isles, he was struck by stone structures like Stonehenge that interacted with the cosmos. Stonehenge is just one of many similar prehistoric stone structures to be found in England. Five-thousand-year-old Stonehenge aligns with the sun each year on the summer solstice.
For prehistoric civilizations, the coming of the summer season in the Northern Hemisphere was a crucial event. Tyson was struck by the idea of how future civilizations would view the leftover city grid of New York. He explains the phenomenon in a 2013 video.
As quoted in CNN, Tyson maintains that the best viewing of Manhattanhenge is to be found in the east end of the city and in particular on 14th, 23rd, 34th, 42nd and 57th Streets. The Empire State Building and Chrysler building are also offer prime viewing of Manhattanhenge this Memorial Day weekend.
The Manhattanhenge Alignment
The Manhattanhenge phenomenon occurs because the sun doesn’t rise and set in exactly the same place every day. As the earth rotates around its axis, it is tipped at an angle of about 23.4 degrees. That means that, at any given time, either the south or north poles are tipped towards the sun and that the progression of the sun across the sky follows a pattern or cycle rather than staying in the same place.
A similar phenomenon – also dubbed Manhattanhenge – occurs when the sunrise aligns with the city grid. That solar alignment happens on either side of the winter solstice, with the dates falling roughly in the first weeks of December and January. The sunrise version of Manhattanhenge, however, hasn’t caught on as a tourist and spectator phenomenon in the same way the Memorial Day spectacle has.
Manhattanhenge is also sometimes called the “Manhattan Solstice.” Manhattan’s street grid actually does not run precisely along north-south-east-west lines. In fact, it is rotated to the west about 30 degrees, which accounts for the fact that it occurs twice at regular intervals around the solstice rather than on the date of the solstice itself, like Stonehenge.
On some years, the weather doesn’t cooperate. In 2015, clouds and haze kept the glowing ball of the sun from making the most of the alignment, although the crowds were still huge, as noted in a local CBS report. However in 2014, Manhattanhenge conditions were just about perfect.
New York City isn’t the only modern city to celebrate a solar alignment. There are also Chicagohenge, Torontohenge, and Bostonhenge, among others, with each event occurring at different times. Because of it’s unique grid alignment, it’s only Manhattanhenge that occurs regularly around Memorial Day.
[Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images]