Each summer, images of sunsets over the streets of New York City flood social media. This is Manhattanhenge.
Want to know why it is so special? When it happens? and the best spots to see it or photograph it? We’ve got you covered.
Table Of Contents
- What is Manhattanhenge?
- What Causes Manhattanhenge?
- How Often Does Manhattanhenge Happen?
- When Is Manhattanhenge This Year?
- Where Are The Best Spots To See It?
- How to Get The Best Manhattanhenge Photo
- Is There a Sunrise Manhattanhenge?
What is Manhattanhenge?
Manhattanhenge refers to the phenomenon of the sun lining up perfectly with the streets and buildings of Manhattan. The name was coined by Astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson, and the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History is considered the official source for the dates and times it will occur.
What Causes Manhattanhenge?
Manahattanhenge is caused by a few factors:
New York City’s Grid Layout
The majority of the streets of New York City are laid out in a perfect grid pattern, with the streets running parallel to each other East to West, intersected by the avenues that run North to South.
The large buildings and narrow streets create canyons, and when the sun is low enough in the sky and lines up just right, it shines down the length of each street, often reflecting off the plethora of glass windows.
Unobstructed View Across the River
Manhattan’s location on an island is important because you can look out toward the horizon across the river. It also helps that looking west, there aren’t many large buildings on the horizon in neighboring New Jersey.
How Often Does Manhattanhenge Happen?
If you were to watch the sunset every day and mark its location on the horizon, you’d see that it appears to set further north each day between the winter solstice and summer solstice. After the summer solstice, it starts “traveling” back south until the next winter solstice. This cycle is caused by the Earth’s tilt as it orbits the sun.
The sunset occurs at its northernmost and southernmost points once each year, but for all the points in between, it happens twice. Once on the way there, and then again on the way back.
Manhattan’s grid is not truly an East/West, North/South layout. It was rotated to match the island’s shape. Therefore, the east/west streets point more north on the west side and at an angle going south to the east.
So, the sun begins to line up towards the end of its northern journey, from the end of May to the solstice in June. Then, it does it in reverse, until about mid-July.
All together, the sunset lines up with the grid about 45 times each year. Many of those occur above the height of the buildings, out of the canyons of buildings.
So, the experts have identified two types of Manhattanhenge as the best for viewing: Half Sun and Full Sun. Each occurs twice during that month and a half.
Half Sun Manhattanhenge means only the top half of the sun is sitting above the horizon at the moment it lines up with the grid. This type happens first in May, and last in July.
Full Sun Manhattanhenge is when the entire disc of the sun is visible just above the horizon when it lines up with the New York City streets. The bottom of the sun is said to “kiss” the horizon.
When is Manhattanhenge This Year?
Manhattanhenge will occur on the following dates and times:
- Wednesday, May 29 at 8:13 pm (Half Sun)
- Thursday, May 30 at 8:12 pm (Full Sun)
- Friday, July 12 at 8:20 pm (Full Sun)
- Saturday, July 13 at 8:21 pm (Half Sun)
Where Are The Best Spots to See it?
The New York City street grid is all the streets from Houston up to 155th Street. These are all parallel to each other and will line up with the sunset at the specified date and time.
That being said, not all views are equal. Generally speaking, the wider streets will have fewer obstructions and the best view, allowing you to position yourself further east to get more depth to your “canyon”, or to make sure you get a landmark like the Empire State Building in your picture.
NYCgo suggests these spots on those wide thoroughfares.
- 14th Street and Broadway (near Union Square)
- 23rd Street and Broadway (near the Flatiron Building)
- 34th Street and Fifth Avenue (near the Empire State Building)
- 42nd Street and Third Avenue (which makes for great shots of the Chrysler Building and of the Park Avenue Viaduct where it crosses above 42nd)
- 57th Street and Eighth Avenue (near the Hearst Building)
Other popular spots include Park Avenue where it goes up and over 42nd Street in front of Grand Central Station, and the Tudor City Overpass at 42nd Street and 1st Ave.
Unique views of Manhattanhenge can be seen from Roosevelt Island, and from Gantry Plaza State Park in Long Island City.
Expect many of those intersections to be crowded, so get there early! Alternatively, you can opt for one of the many narrower one-way streets. Many of these may have trees blocking your view, but some are surprisingly clear.
How to Get The Best Manhattanhenge Photo
Taking photos of the sunset can be challenging. Mahattanhenge doesn’t last long, so you want to be ready to go when it happens. Here are some tips for getting the best photo.
Never look at the sun through a lens!! Use your camera’s LCD screen to frame your shot.
- Clean Your Lens! Nothing brings out all the specs of dust on your lens like a bright light source.
- Use a Small Aperture. Remember, the larger the number, the smaller the aperture.
- Set Your Focus Manually. Many cameras have trouble auto-focusing in extreme lighting conditions.
- Use Bracketing. This is when you take several shots at different exposures and combine them. Phone cameras call this feature HDR.
- Keep it Steady. Use a tripod if possible. Handheld, keep your arms close to your body.
Is There a Sunrise Manhattanhenge?
From the lack of social media coverage, you might think there isn’t a sunrise version of Manhattanhenge… But there is!
It usually occurs around Dec. 2 and January 12 and can be best seen from 34th or 42nd streets. It doesn’t get as much love as the sunset version though.