© 2024 WOSU Public Media
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

What is Manhattanhenge? Here's when and where you can see the phenomenon

Clouds obscure the view of the setting sun on 42nd street in New York, Tuesday, May 28, 2024. Twice per year, New Yorkers and visitors are treated to a phenomenon known as Manhattanhenge, when the setting sun aligns with the Manhattan street grid and sinks below the horizon framed in a canyon of skyscrapers.
Mary Conlon
/
/AP
Clouds obscure the view of the setting sun on 42nd street in New York, Tuesday, May 28, 2024. Twice per year, New Yorkers and visitors are treated to a phenomenon known as Manhattanhenge, when the setting sun aligns with the Manhattan street grid and sinks below the horizon framed in a canyon of skyscrapers.

Anyone who knows Manhattan like a New Yorker knows it’s a city that never sleeps — and knows when to capture the best angle for the solar spectacle known as Manhattanhenge.

Twice annually — weeks before and after the summer solstice — residents and tourists raise their phones to capture Manhattan’s sun aligning with the city grid, creating a spectacular sunset.

Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson coined it Manhattanhenge. It’s when the sun sets exactly along the streets of Manhattan, lighting up the city with a golden hour light.

Jackie Faherty, an astronomer at the American Museum of Natural History, shares how Manhattanhenge can draw crowds of spectators.

“Manhattanhenge really grew to be as popular as it is because it's an epic photograph. Iconic buildings, gorgeous light, perfect time of day, usually warm, kids are out of school. All the things that you want out of summer happen around Manhattanhenge,” she said.

For some experts, Manhattanhenge is easy to notice because of how the grid is structured. John McCoy, the deputy director of the Urban Park Rangers, says Manhattanhenge is special in this way.

“What makes it fun and interesting and unique is that there's that consistency throughout most of the island of Manhattan,” he said.

The consistency is a result of Manhattan being built from a grid system.

“Manhattan specifically is a gridded city. A decision that got made by city planners. As soon as they laid down the grid of Manhattan, making the avenues long they’re roughly north, south and 90 degree angles to the cross streets, they created a bullseye for the sun to hit,” Faherty said.

Even though Tyson likened Manhattanhenge to the sunset views at solstice in Stonehenge, England, city planners did not intentionally build Manhattan for the purpose of having epic sunsets.

“When we had people building the grid of Manhattan in the early 19th century, they didn't realize that when the sun was going to arc at a certain time of year, we'd be seeing the sun right down the streets of Manhattan,” he shared.

If you happen to be in New York this Wednesday evening, Faherty has a note of caution.

“Don't try and watch Manhattanhenge from below the grid. Once you get below 14th Street, it gets messy,” she said. The best spot — the mecca of Manhattanhenge — is on 42nd Street.

Copyright 2024 NPR

Iman Maani
Iman Maani is a production assistant on Morning Edition and Up First. She began her journalism career at Member station NCPR in Canton, New York. She has also worked on the political docu-series, Power Trip, that covered the midterm elections. Iman is a graduate from St. Lawrence University.