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Manhattanhenge, July 11th, 2014
Photograph: Jeff Siberman

Manhattanhenge: Neil deGrasse Tyson explains the spectacle

The most photogenic days of summer are upon us. Neil deGrasse Tyson tells us what's up with Manhattanhenge


Four times a year, to the delight of NYC shutterbugs, the setting sun aligns perfectly with Manhattan’s east-west grid. This summer, the spectacle occurs on Friday May 29 at 8:12pm (Half Sun on the Grid) and Saturday May 30 at 8:12pm (Full Sun), and again on July 12 at 8.20pm (Full Sun) and July 13 at 8:21pm (Half Sun). The term Manhattanhenge was coined by astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, director of the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History. Here’s what He of the Galaxy-Print Vest had to say about the striking phenomenon.

RECOMMENDED: See more on Manhattanhenge

Why it happens: “The sun does not set in the same place on the horizon each day. In fact, when people recite that the sun ‘rises in the east and sets in the west,’ that’s only true for two days per year—the spring and fall equinoxes. In principle, any city with a rectangular street grid would have a ‘henge’ but not all grids extend to the horizon. Some hit forests or mountains. Others curve or bend, preventing the phenomenon from occurring. Manhattan’s clear view to New Jersey—across the Hudson to the Palisades—makes an ideal setup for stunning sunsets.”

Where to watch it:
“Good cross streets for viewing Manhattanhenge are 14th, 34th, 42nd and 57th. They are wide and are lined with interesting buildings to frame your photographs. You want to be as far east on your cross street as possible, while retaining a view across Manhattan to the New Jersey horizon. This will frame your photo with a canyon of steel and glass buildings. Resist zooming into the sunset with your camera. Wider angle views that include the buildings that flank the sunset are what make the event special.”

What other phenomena are worth seeing in New York?
“Watching others react to Manhattanhenge. The ceiling of Grand Central Terminal. The ceiling of the Church of St. Paul the Apostle. Both have renderings of the night sky.”

What is your favorite star, planet and constellation?
“First place: Sun, Earth, Orion. Second place: Betelgeuse, Saturn, Big Dipper.”

Do aliens exist?
“Probably. Have they visited us? Unlikely.”

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