What is Manhattanhenge and how to see it
Twice a year – around May 29 and 30, and again around July 11 and 12 – people in New York City look for Manhattanhenge. It’s a phenomenon where the sunset aligns perfectly on east-west oriented streets of Manhattan. So cool! If you missed Manhattenhenge in May and you’re in the city, look for it on Monday, July 11, at 8:20 p.m. EDT and Tuesday, July 12, at 8:21 p.m. EDT.
Some of the best places to spot it are along 14th, 23rd, 34th (includes the Empire State Building), 42nd, 57th, and 79th Streets. Another good place is from the Tudor City Bridge in Manhattan (though it can be crowded) or Hunter’s Point South Park in Long Island City, Queens.
Regardless of where you watch the sunset, make sure you’re as far east as possible while keeping New Jersey in the background across the Hudson River to accentuate the effect.
Each Manhattanhenge is actually two days. On the first day the sun’s full disk aligns with the street grid, and the next day half the sun’s disk aligns with the street grid.
The two sets of aligned sunsets are centered on the summer solstice, leading to the effect’s other, incorrect name, the Manhattan Solstice. The first set of 2022’s Manhattanhenge dates happened on May 29 and 30 (Memorial Day weekend for Americans). If you missed it, you’ve got another chance coming up.
As the sun appears to move south again after the solstice, the effect repeats in reverse. The full solar disk appears at the horizon at 8:20 p.m. EDT on Monday, July 11, 2022. Then, the half disk alignment occurs the following day at 8:21 p.m. EDT, Tuesday, July 12.
Six months later, Reverse Manhattanhenge happens around the mornings of January 11-12, when the rising sun creates the same effect on the other side of the island at shortly after 7 a.m. EST.
Solstice and equinox alignments around the world
The phenomenon of Manhattanhenge is fun, and one of many similar alignments that occur around the world on various dates. Think Stonehenge at the equinoxes and solstices.
The point of sunset along the horizon varies throughout the year. At this time of year – between the March equinox and June solstice – the sunset point is shifting northward each day on the horizon as seen from around the globe. It’s the northward-shifting path of the sun that gives us summer in the Northern Hemisphere and winter in the Southern Hemisphere. And it’s the shifting path of the sun that gives people various alignments of the sunset with familiar landmarks.
You can observe Manhattanhenge from lots of different places on the east-west streets of the Manhattan street grid. The best places to watch Manhattanhenge are wide streets with an unobstructed view toward New Jersey across the Hudson River.
Popular spots are 34th Street near the Empire State Building and 42nd Street near the Chrysler Building. Wide cross streets – such as 14th, 34th, 42nd and 57th Streets – that ensure the best views of the west-northwest horizon (toward New Jersey) are generally good spots.
Keep in mind that Manhattanhenge draws large crowds, especially around the city’s landmarks.
Why does Manhattenhenge happen?
The June solstice on June 21 will bring the sun’s northernmost point in our sky and northernmost sunset. Afterward, the sun’s path in our sky, and the sunset point, will both start shifting southward again. As for the sun’s alignment with the city of New York, and the streets of Manhattan Island … well, thank the original planners of this city. Scientific American explained:
The phenomenon is based on a design for Manhattan outlined in The Commissioners’ Plan of 1811 for a rectilinear grid or gridiron of straight streets and avenues that intersect one another at right angles. 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.
And because of this 29-degree tilt in the grid, the magic moment of the setting sun aligning with Manhattan’s cross streets does not coincide with the June solstice but rather with specific dates in late May and early July.