Manhattanhenge 2018: How to see New York City’s special sunsets
The best places to view Manhattanhenge are along the Big Apple’s major east-west thoroughfares, including 14th, 34th, 57th, and 79th Streets. Experts recommend positioning yourself as far east in Manhattan as possible — just make sure you’re still able to see New Jersey as you look to the west.
If Manhattan’s streets lined up perfectly with the compass directions, Manhattanhenge would occur precisely on the first day of spring and summer, according to a post on the museum’s website by Faherty’s colleague Neil deGrasse Tyson. But Manhattan’s street grid is rotated 30 degrees east from geographic north, so Manhattanhenge’s dates are shifted to the dates listed above.
The sun sets along 42nd Street in Manhattan during an annual phenomenon known as “Manhattanhenge,” when the sun aligns perfectly with the city’s transit grid on May 29, 2013, in New York. John Minchillo / AP
Though Manhattanhenge occurs because of the fortuitous orientation of the Big Apple’s street grid, it’s ultimately Earth’s particular orbital path around the sun that makes the phenomenon possible.
“Earth is tilted by 23.5 degrees from the plane of the sun,” Faherty says. “Consequently, as the Earth traverses its long, 365-day ride around the sun, one would notice that the sun appears to rise and set at a different position on the horizon throughout the year. Any grid facing east-west has the potential of creating a bulls-eye for the sun to land upon.”
Tyson coined the word Manhattanhenge in a nod to Stonehenge, the prehistoric monument on England’s Salisbury Plain about 90 miles west of London. That site is oriented such that sunlight hits its tall stones in special patterns on the summer and winter solstices.