New York City never ceases to amaze. But, it can be difficult to see the city “in a new light.” After all, how many ways can one photograph the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty, or the Brooklyn Bridge? But, every year, something unique and beautiful happens on the streets of Manhattan — it’s a phenomenon known as “Manhattanhenge.” If you missed it late last month, don’t worry. The good news is that it’s coming back for round two in July. Here’s everything you need to know.
According to New York’s American Museum of Natural History, the term “Manhattanhenge” was coined by famed astrophysicist, Neil deGrasse Tyson. It’s an obvious play on England’s popular Stonehenge. The iconic monument was designed so that, when viewed from its center during the summer solstice, the rays of the rising sun align perfectly with the “Heel Stone.”
Somewhat unexpectedly, the same concept works amid the high-rise jungle of downtown Manhattan which was designed on a mostly square grid that’s rotated 29° from east to west. For just four days every year — days predictably spaced around the summer solstice — the azimuth of the sunset is exactly 299° (or 29° north of true West). The sun’s angle aligns perfectly with the city’s grid, illuminating its streets and skyscrapers in a way that’s unlike any other day of the year. Viewers in downtown NYC looking westward toward New Jersey will see the full sun hovering just above the horizon line, squarely between the buildings on either side.
The event is easily explained in geographical terms, but that makes it no less spectacular. Its popularity has exploded in recent years. Now, photographers flock to the city’s major cross streets every year for a chance to capture some truly rare and memorable photo ops.
The four prime viewing days are based on the sunset at specific times of the year. However, the event is typically around June 21. The first two dates for 2018 were May 29 and May 30.
The final two dates for Manhattanhenge 2018 are:
- Thursday, July 12 at 8:20 p.m. (full sun)
- Friday, July 13 at 8:21 p.m. (half sun)
“Full sun” is when the horizon touches the bottom of the sun, while “half sun” means the vertical center of the sun aligns with the grid.
Plan to arrive a half-hour early. Note that optimal viewing of the event also requires ideal weather conditions (i.e., clear, sunny skies).
Ideally, you want to be situated as far east on the island as possible. The phenomenon is best viewed from New York’s primary cross streets, including 14th, 23rd, 34th, 42nd, 57th, and 79th. Although, it can be seen from immediately adjacent parallel streets as well. For spectacular photo ops, check out 34th (home of the Empire State Building) or 42nd where the Chrysler Building is located.
For more information, the American Museum of Natural History hosts annual talks and educational lectures about Manhattanhenge.
To up your smartphone camera game ahead of time, shop these must-have iPhone photography accessories, then follow up with our tips on how to edit your photos for social media.