For a few nights every summer, the sun, streets and skyscrapers in New York City align to create a sunset spectacular known as Manhattanhenge. The bright lights of the City That Never Sleeps pale in comparison to this rare solar phenomenon.
Manhattanhenge occurs when the sunset perfectly lines up with the street grid in the borough of Manhattan. As the sun sets, it fully illuminates the cross streets between the tall buildings before slowly dipping below the horizon. Both the north and south sides of every cross street in Manhattan will glow.
It all started with astrophysicist and director of the Hayden Planetarium at the Museum of Natural History Neil deGrasse Tyson. He first discovered Manhattan’s perfectly aligned sunset in the mid-1990s. He was familiar with ancient stone monuments, including Stonehenge, where the sun lines up with the concentric circles of stones on the solstices. Tyson noticed celestial similarities between such stone monuments and the rows of skyscrapers in Manhattan.
As a result, Tyson sought out and pin-pointed the days when the sun aligned with the buildings and grid of Manhattan. He shared the information, but it wasn’t until he captured it on film that his discovery gained traction.
Tyson took a photo and named it Manhattanhenge in 1996. When he took his photo, he remembers being the only one in the middle of the street. Now, thousands of people crowd into the busy city streets to experience and capture this incredible event for themselves.
Manhattanhenge may sound like ancient history. However, modern photography and Instagram have made it the spectacle that it is today. Thousands of people pour out of buildings in the concrete jungle in order to experience this cool event.
There are only four days each year when everything lines up just right for the event. This year, Manhattanhenge will occur at specific times on May 29 and 30 and July 12 and 13. On May 29 and July 13, the half sun will line up perfectly with the grid. Then on May 30 and July 12, the full sun will be visible on the grid right before setting.
It’s no surprise that prime viewing spots for Manhattanhenge garner quite an audience when these summer days roll around. One onlooker snapped this view in midtown of the crowds eagerly awaiting sunset:
But you don’t have the battle the crowds (or be in New York City!) to catch a glimpse of this glorious golden hour. You can browse the latest images tagged #Manhattanhenge on social media:
While other cities with rectangular street grids can experience a similar sunset phenomenon as well, New York City’s is one of a kind.