If you live in New York City or plan to be there on July 11 and 12, you — and thousands of other people — are in for a treat.
On Monday, July 11, and Tuesday, July 12, the sunset will line up perfectly with Manhattan’s streets that are oriented east to west. This means, if you have a clear view of the New Jersey horizon, you’ll be able to see the sun perched on the horizon as it’s framed by skyscrapers and other buildings.
The spectacular event, which happens twice in May and twice again in July every year, has come to be known as “Manhattanhenge” in recent years.
“It’s so famous because it’s a gorgeous sunset,” said Jackie Faherty, senior scientist and astrophysicist at the American Museum of Natural History, according to The New York Times. “The sun kisses the grid of one of the greatest cities, if not the greatest city in the world, and touches the whole corridor of the concrete jungle with these amazing golden hues. It’s a beautiful thing.”
Why Manhattanhenge Occurs
There are two important components to Manhattanhenge — a term first coined by noted astrophysicist and director of New York’s Hayden Planetarium, Neil deGrasse Tyson, with a wink and a nod to Stonehenge.
First, as outlined in The Commissioners’ Plan of 1811, the design for Manhattan called for “a rectilinear grid, or ‘gridiron’ of straight streets and avenues that intersect one another at right angles,” according to Scientific American. “This design runs from north of Houston Street in Lower Manhattan to just south of 155th Street in Upper Manhattan. Most cross streets in between were arranged in a regular right-angled grid that was tilted 29 degrees east of true north to roughly replicate the angle of the island of Manhattan.”
The second factor is that, while the sun generally sets in the west, it only precisely sets at due west twice a year — on the equinox in March and again on the equinox in September.
However, “between the first day of spring and the first day of autumn, the position on the horizon where the sun appears to set, known as the azimuth, actually occurs somewhat north of due west,” Scientific American continues. “The azimuth of the sunset slowly shifts northward until the day of the June solstice; thereafter, it reverses course and shifts back to the south. On June 21, the sun sets at an azimuth of 302 degrees, or 32 degrees north of due west.”
The confluence of those two factors occurs in May and again in July. As the sun is moving toward the solstice in late May, and then as the sun moves south in early July, its azimuth reaches 299 degrees, or 29 degrees north of due west — aligning perfectly with Manhattan’s streets that are oriented east to west.
How To See Manhattanhenge
Here’s what will happen.
Precisely at 8:20 p.m. Eastern on Monday, July 11, what’s called “the full solar disk,” or the full sun, will appear to be poised on the horizon. Then, at 8:21 p.m. Eastern, Tuesday, July 12, “the half solar disk,” or half of the sun, will be aligned perfectly with the streets on the horizon.
You — and crowds of people — will be able to see Manhattanhenge from numerous places on the east-to-west streets of Manhattan. Keep in mind though that the best places to watch Manhattanhenge are wide streets with an unobstructed view of New Jersey across the Hudson River.
“Face west towards the sunset,” New York City Department of Parks & Recreation explains. “Don’t forget your camera — go further east to get the best shot!”
Keep in mind that wide cross streets, such as 14th, 34th, 42nd, and 57th Streets, will be good spots to watch Manhattanhenge — although they will certainly attract crowds.
“The Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building render 34th Street and 42nd Street especially striking vistas,” noted Tyson, according to The Farmers’ Almanac.
For more on Manhattan, be sure to check out our New York City content, including: