Human World

Manhattanhenge in 2024: When and where to see it

People standing on a pier with their phones raised. Sun at horizon between distant skyscrapers.
View at EarthSky Community Photos. | Walter Karling at Gantry Plaza State Park, Long Island City, took this image on July 12, 2022. Walter wrote: “Photographing Manhattanhenge from Queens looking east toward Manhattan.” Thank you, Walter!

Manhattanhenge, and how to see it

Twice a year – around May 28, 29 or 30, and again around July 11, 12 or 13 – people in New York City look for Manhattanhenge. It’s a phenomenon where the sunset aligns perfectly on east-west oriented streets and avenues of Manhattan. So cool! According to the American Museum of Natural History:

Four nights a year, the streets of Manhattan’s grid become the site for a stunning sunset phenomenon known as Manhattanhenge. During Manhattanhenge, the sun sets in perfect alignment with Manhattan’s east-west numbered streets, creating cinema-worthy photo opportunities …

The first set of Manhattanhenge dates falls on May 28 (half sun at 8:13 p.m. EDT) and May 29 (full sun at at 8:12 pm EDT).

The second set of Manhattanhenge dates falls on July 12 (full sun at 8:20 p.m. EDT) and July 13 (half sun 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.

More good locations and tips from the NYC Parks Department

Neil deGrasse Tyson on Manhattanhenge

The name Manhattanhenge was coined by astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson. It’s a nod to the prehistoric monument Stonehenge in England, which was designed to frame the summer solstice sunrise and the winter solstice sunset. Manhattanhenge is accidental. It happens because Manhattan was built with a grid system of streets running north-south and east-west. Tyson explains in the video above.

Aligned sunsets

Each Manhattanhenge is actually two days. On one day the sun’s full disk aligns with the street grid, and then on the other day half the sun’s disk aligns with the street grid.

The two sets of aligned sunsets are centered around the dates of the summer solstice, leading to the effect’s other name, not as commonly used: the Manhattan Solstice.

Six months later, Reverse Manhattanhenge happens around the mornings around January 11, when the rising sun creates the same effect on the other side of the island at shortly after 7 a.m. EST.

Manhattanhenge: Sun at horizon between tall buildings with dense crowd of tourists holding cameras up.
Manhattanhenge on July 12, 2016, at 42nd Street. Tourists blocked an entire section of 42nd Street, including its intersection with 6th Avenue, to take pictures of the sunset. Image via Fred Hsu/ Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0).

Solstice and equinox alignments around the world

The phenomenon of Manhattanhenge is fun. And it’s 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 – before the 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.

City skyline with three dated sun positions near the horizon.
Abhijit Juvekar in Dombivli, India, created this composite image of sunsets over a period of months to show how the sun sets progressively farther north in the months leading up to the June solstice. Abhijit posted this image on EarthSky Facebook. Used with permission.

Watching Manhattanhenge

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 Manhattanhenge 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.

EarthSky Community Photos of Manhattanhenge

Sun at horizon under golden sky between iconic tall buildings, with body of water in foreground.
Manhattanhenge in 2017. Gowrishankar Lakshminarayanan was in Gantry Plaza State Park, Queens, New York, looking straight through 42nd Street with the Chrysler building to the right. He said he created this 3-image composite to preserve the disk of the sun and also show shadow details of the surroundings. Used with permission.

Did you get a photo of Manhattanhenge? We’d love to see it! Submit it to us at EarthSky Community Photos.

Bottom line: Each year around May 29, and again around July 12, New Yorkers watch for Manhattanhenge.

Read more about Manhattanhenge from ScientificAmerican.com

Read more about Manhattanhenge from American Museum of Natural History

Posted 
May 28, 2024
 in 
Human World

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