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It’s almost time for Manhattanhenge

Manhattanhenge is the sun setting between tall buildings in New York City.
Manhattanhenge in 2019. Image via SecretNewYork.

Every year around May 29 and 30 – and again for a day or two around July 12 – people in New York City look forward to Manhattanhenge. It’s a phenomenon where the sunset aligns perfectly with the streets of Manhattan, particularly along 42nd, 34th and 14th Streets. It happens twice every year – around the end of May and early July. According to the Farmer’s Almanac, the best dates and times for Manhattanhenge in 2021 are:

Saturday, May 29 at 8:13 p.m. EDT (half sun)*
Sunday, May 30 at 8:12 p.m. EDT (full sun)*
Monday, July 12 at 8:20 p.m. EDT (full sun)
Tuesday, July 13 at 8:21 p.m. EDT (half sun)

The phenomenon of Manhattanhenge is fun, one of 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.

New York skyline with three sun positions marked in the sky.
Abhijit Juvekar in Dombivli, India, created this composite image of sunsets over a period of months, to show that the sun sets progressively farther north in the months leading up to the June solstice.

Where to see 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. You can also choose to get your favorite of the city’s iconic buildings in your view. A popular spot is 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 – especially during these Covid times – 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.

Manhattanhenge is tall buildings each side of golden sunset, half the sun above the horizon, waterway in foreground.
Manhattanhenge. This is a 3-image composite to preserve the disk of the sun and also show shadow details of the surroundings. Gowrishankar Lakshminarayanan was in Gantry Plaza State Park, Queens, New York, looking straight through 42nd Street, with the Chrysler building to the right, on June 1, 2017.
Manhattanhenge sunset and 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/ Wikipedia.

Read more about Manhattanhenge from ScientificAmerican.com

Bottom line: Each year on May 29 and 30, New Yorkers watch for Manhattanhenge. Here’s what causes it. Best Manhattanhenge dates and times for 2021.

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