Updated May 29, 2012: Manhattanhenge was supposed to take place tonight at 8:17. But it was too cloudy. Tomorrow, with a little luck, at 8:16, New York City denizens will get an opportunity to see the full sun on the grid. The forecast currently calls for partly cloudy skies.
Even if you don’t live in New York City, this is pretty cool: Twice a year, the setting sun aligns perfectly with the grid of Manhattan’s east-west streets. This results in a perfect view of the sun as it hits the horizon, with sunlight spilling evenly down both sides of the street. The effect is beautiful and slightly menacing — isn’t that massive star a little too close and bright? It’s a little eerie too: Where am I, in a city devoted to commerce or an outdoor church built for a sun god?
Here’s the ubiquitous Neil deGrasse Tyson of the American Museum of Natural History’s on the phenomenon: Manhattanhenge is “when the setting Sun aligns precisely with the Manhattan street grid, creating a radiant glow of light across Manhattan’s brick and steel canyons, simultaneously illuminating both the north and south sides of every cross street of the borough’s grid. A rare and beautiful sight.”
The phenomenon actually lasts two days. On the first day (May 30 this year), the sun is halfway below the horizon when it is perfectly aligned with Gotham’s grid. The next day (May 31), the sun is completely above the horizon at the magic moment, a perfect ball of fire sitting at the end of the street.
New York isn’t the only city that experiences this odd mix of ancient and modern solar fun. Chicago and Toronto have their own versions of it, and just about any city with streets laid out in a regular grid should be able to get in on the festivities. Check your sunset and street alignment tables for full details.
Photo credit: Manhattanhenge, May 30, 2011 by Flickr user slgckgc.