Twice each summer, the sun, Earth, and monuments of human industry create a spectacle of light in New York City called “Manhattanhenge.”
On four days — two before the summer solstice and two after — the sunset aligns perfectly with the city’s gridded streets. The phenomenon’s name is a portmanteau of Stonehenge, which prehistoric people likely built to line up with the sun, and the island of Manhattan.
Unlike Stonehenge, however, Manhattanhenge is a beautiful accident of city planning. If you’re in the right place at the right time, you can watch a floating, orange-hued orb of plasma (our sun) slip perfectly between miles-long corridors of skyscrapers.
Think of it like photography’s famous “golden hour” on steroids — people flood the streets, and mirror-like panes of glass on the city’s tall buildings reflect the colourful sunlight up and down the roads and footpaths.
The first two dates were in May, and skies were cloudy so they were kind of a bust. The next two are:
- Wednesday, July 12, at 8:20 p.m. EDT
- Thursday, July 13, at 8:21 p.m. EDT
On the first day, onlookers can get a full-disk view of the sun; on the second, the sun will set between the city’s streets with half of its disk poking above the horizon.
The weather forecast for these two dates is currently rainy. However, conditions could improve closer to the Manhattanhenge.
If you’re in New York City, and the skies aren’t overcast, a few viewing sites rise above the rest. The best places to watch are 14th, 23rd, 34th, 42nd, and 57th Streets, partly because they’re wider and can accommodate more foot traffic.
The best spots along these streets are toward the eastern side of Manhattan, since that gives the best cityscape effect. (On the west side, however, you’re more likely to get an unobstructed view.) And make sure you find a high point — otherwise a distant hill or other object may block the photos you’ll inevitably want to take.
The American Museum of Natural History, which publicizes the phenomenon each year, recommends that you arrive in your watching spot at least half an hour before the sun sets on the day of Manhattanhenge.
If you can’t make it, don’t worry — these dates aren’t actually the only ones to watch the sun set between New York City buildings. Designer Andrew Hill created an interactive “NYCHenge” map to show all the days and times of the year that opportune sunsets occur.
Hill’s map also reveals that New York City also isn’t the only place to see accidental “henge” sunsets: In fact, almost any city on a grid can witness them. (Bostonhenge, anyone?)
Wherever and whenever you watch, be careful walking through those sun-painted roadways — car and bus drivers might be mesmerised, too.
Meghan Bartels contributed to a previous version of this post.