For two days each spring and summer, the sunset aligns with Manhattan’s street bars, creating a beautiful heavenly spectacle. For a brief moment the golden rays of the sun illuminate the buildings and the traffic of the city with a breathtaking glow.
“It’s the best sunset picture of the year you will have in this beautiful city,” said Jackie Faherty, astrophysicist at the American Museum of Natural History, in a 2017 interview with The Times. “Sometimes they call it the Instagram vacation.”
Manhattanhenge’s name pays homage to Stonehenge, the monument in England believed to have been built by prehistoric people and used in rituals related to the sun. During the summer solstice, the sunrise is perfectly framed by its stone slabs.
This year’s event comes as the city keeps reopening. In 2020, the effects of the coronavirus pandemic dampened public scrutiny of Manhattanhenge.
“Typically this is an event that attracts crowds, and last year – especially in May and July – this was clearly not a welcome event,” said Dr. Faherty in a recent email.
But with increasing vaccinations, a better understanding of safety, and a growing number of visitors to the city, the crowd seeing Manhattanhenge might feel more normal this year.
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When is Manhattanhenge?
According to Dr. Faherty you can watch the first round of the dazzling display on the following days and at the following times:
Saturday, May 29, 8:13 p.m. East Coast Time.
Sunday, May 30th, 8:12 p.m.
With rain and cloudy conditions predicted for much of the weekend in New York, you may miss the show in May. But you will get a second chance in about a month and a half.
Sunday, July 11th, 8:20 p.m. East Coast Time.
Monday, July 12th, 8:21 pm
Why is this happening?
About 200 years ago, the architects who created the plan for modern Manhattan decided to build it using a grid system with avenues running north and south and streets running east and west. According to Dr. Faherty accidentally sets the stage for Manhattanhenge.
“You made this porthole for the sun,” she said.
The sun moves slightly along the horizon all year round, while the earth tilts along its axis. That said, there are times of the year when the setting sun coincides with the streets running east and west in Manhattan.
If Manhattan were laid out so that it was precisely aligned with east and west on a compass, Manhattanhenge would occur at the spring equinox and fall equinox. Instead, the city is 30 degrees from Cardinal East and West, so the dates are shifted.
Manhattanhenge appears as either a full sun event or a half sun event.
What is the difference between half a sun and a full sun?
Manhattanhenge appears in pairs, as full sun on one and a half days on the other. The full sun is when the bottom of the sun, according to Dr. Faherty kisses the city gate. Half the sun is when the center of the sun touches the grid.
Is the prospect better in May or July?
There’s no real difference between the two other than the order in which the sunsets appear. This year we get half sun on May 29th and full sun on May 30th. This summer we get full sun on July 11th and half sun on July 12th. Half.
Getting a good show depends on how cloudy it is.
Where is the best place to watch?
The key is to find a spot with an uninterrupted view of New Jersey. Dr. Faherty suggests going to a point where the streets are wide and the buildings are beautiful.
The most popular spots are 42nd Street, with its flashing signs, and 57th, 34th, 23rd, and 14th Streets. There you will see people getting on and off at the zebra crossing, hoping to see the perfect sunset. Remember, safety is paramount as you have to be in the middle of the street to see Manhattanhenge.
People also crowd for the Pershing Square flyover near Grand Central Terminal, but this place is very close to traffic. The police are aware of this and often disperse the crowd. A safer option is the Tudor City flyover near the United Nations, but amateur and professional photographers get there very early, leaving little room for the casual sungazer.
Don’t forget the other counties, added Dr. Faherty added. Gantry Plaza State Park in Queens also offers a nice view of the spectacle.
Are there any Covid concerns regarding the crowd in Manhattanhenge?
For people who are fully vaccinated, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say outdoor activities are safe even among the crowds. You can still wear a mask.
If you are not fully vaccinated, assess the magnitude of the amount with which you look at the setting sun. At a small outdoor gathering where people’s vaccination status is unknown, those who are not vaccinated can wear a mask. However, if large numbers of people take to the streets to watch Manhattanhenge near you, the CDC rates the risk as “Least Safe.”
Michael Roston contributed to the coverage.