Manhattanhenge: Notes on NYC's mystical solar alignment

Twice every year, a mystical occurrence takes place over Manhattan: The sunset aligns exactly with the isle’s cross streets. If you stand on any street above 14th (where the city’s grid starts) and look west, the sun will seem to be perfectly centered within the cavern of buildings. This year, the phenomenon—which creates an effect not unlike the one made by the famed megalithic monument on Salisbury Plain in England—will take place on May 30 and July 11 (give or take a day on either side). To see the magic at sunrise, wake up early on or about November 30 or January 10 (2010).

“If the island ran true north,” explains Joe Rao, Hayden Planetarium associate at the American Museum of Natural History, “the sun would rise aligned with the streets in the east, and set aligned with them in the west, on each of the equinoxes in March and September. But because of a quirk in geography, Manhattan is canted 28.9 degrees east of true north.” This causes the alignment to occur at different times.

This year’s Manhattanhenge should happen on May 30 between 8:16--8:18pm and on July 11 between 8:26--8:28pm. But the effect can actually play out over two days, with the sun mostly above the horizon one day (left) and half below the next (right), or vice versa, depending on the year.

Thanks to the position of the setting sun, as you walk east, away from it, you’ll see your shadow stretching as much as an entire block ahead of you—as long as no hills, buildings or taller tourists obscure it.

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