Manhattanhenge is four times a year, this week, May 29 and 30, and again in mid-July.
The term Manhattanhenge was coined nearly 20 years ago by native New Yorker and rock star astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson,
He describes it as the rare opportunity to view the “juxtaposition of city life with cosmic life”.
DeGrasse Tyson knows a thing or two about the cosmos. He is Director of the world-renowned Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) and host of the acclaimed TV series, Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey.
Here is a brief history of Manhattanhenge, and its comparison to Stonehenge.
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Inspiration for Manhattanhenge
The term Manhattanhenge was inspired by an excursion he made as a young man to Stonehenge, the prehistoric ring of stones in Great Britain, were the sun sets between the stones on the Solstice.
The New York City phenomenon actually is thanks to city planners in the early 1800s, to bring order to the jumble pattern of streets in Lower Manhattan which traced back to the earliest Dutch settlers, when the town was known as New Amsterdam.
The so-called Commissioners Plan of 1811 laid out a rectangular grid plan of streets and avenues between Houston Street in Lower Manhattan and 155th Street in Hamilton Heights. It is within that grid pattern that Manhattanhenge occurs, along with east-west streets below Houston and above 155th.
Unlike Stonehenge, Manhattanhenge does not occur on the Summer Solstice. That is because of a 29-degree tilt in the grid that approximately replicates the angle of the island of Manhattan, according to Space.com.
Manhattanhenge is one of world’s top sunset photos
Manhattanhenge ranks as one of the best sunset photos in the world, and it’s a party atmosphere on major cross streets, especially 42nd St. and Times Square, where people literally stop traffic to be in the middle of the street for the perfect photo.
deGrasse Tyson says this about Manhattanhenge In an article on the AMNH website:
“What will future civilizations think of Manhattan Island when they dig it up and find a carefully laid out network of streets and avenues?
Surely the grid would be presumed to have astronomical significance, just as we have found for the pre-historic circle of large vertical rocks known as Stonehenge. For Stonehenge, the special day is the summer solstice.
For Manhattan, a place where evening matters more than morning, that special day comes twice a year, 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.”
Best Spots to Photograph Manhattanhenge
The widest cross streets in Manhattan offer the best vantage points—14th Street, 34th Street 42nd Street, 57th Street, and 79th Street.
In 2020, please observe social distancing rules.
The most popular spots on 42nd Street are the overpass at Tudor City on First Ave., by the United Nations, where you will be fighting for space with professional photographers and serious hobbyists, with tripods and long lenses, and in Times Square, where you will be fighting for space with Instagrammers and tourists.
Narrower streets on the grid work, as well, as do spots on the High Line.
There are several great spots in Queens, where your photo of Manhattanhenge will include the East River.
Gantry Plaza State Park, in Long Island City offers the 42nd Street view with an expansive skyline.
Hunter’s Point will give you the view across 34th Street,
Bushwick Inlet Park aligns with 14th Street.
Whatever spot you choose, get there early and take some practice photos so you are ready for the real thing.
And let’s hope for clear skies, not cloudy or rainy.
Manhattanhenge Compared to Stonehenge
The world-famous prehistoric monument is located on the Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire, England,
Stonehenge was added to UNESCO”S list of World Heritage Sites in 1986, and draws approximately 1.3 million visitors annually.
The famous stone circle at Stonehenge features a ring of standing stones, each of which weigh around 25 tons and are approximately 13 feet high and 7 feet wide.
There have been many theories over the years about the origin of Stonehenge, its astronomical role, and the placement of its stones that create a literal “ring of fire”. However, nobody knows for sure.
It is now believed Stonehenge took approximately 1,500 years to construct starting around 3000 BC, that that it likely served as a burial ground at one time or another.
Learn more by reading Stonehenge Decoded by astronomer and Stonehenge theorist Gerald S. Hawkins.