Anastasia Kaliabakos

Anticipation of a beautiful event has taken social media by storm– Manhattanhenge. Manhattanhenge is a captivating phenomenon that occurs twice a year in Manhattan, New York. Inspired by the famous Stonehenge in England, it refers to the alignment of the setting sun with the east-west streets of Manhattan’s street grid, creating a breathtaking spectacle of light and shadows. It is a cherished event for both locals and tourists alike, drawing huge crowds that fill the city streets to witness this unique occurrence.

2016 Manhattanhenge Photo credit: WikiCommons

The term “Manhattanhenge” was first coined by Neil deGrasse Tyson, a famed astrophysicist and director of the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History, who noticed the phenomenon’s resemblance to Stonehenge. Stonehenge is one of the most iconic and mysterious archaeological sites in the world and has captivated visitors with its enigmatic presence throughout history. Comprising a circle of massive standing stones, Stonehenge continues to intrigue scholars, historians, and tourists alike, raising countless questions about its purpose and the civilization that constructed it.

Believed to have been built between 3000 and 2000 BCE, Stonehenge is a remarkable feat of engineering considering the time in which it was constructed. The monument consists of two primary stone types: the “sarsens,” which are large sandstone blocks weighing up to 25 tons, and the smaller “bluestones,” which were transported from southwest Wales– approximately 150 miles away. The stones were meticulously arranged in various configurations, forming concentric circles and horseshoe shapes.

The purpose of Stonehenge remains shrouded in mystery, as no written records from the builders exist. However, numerous theories about it have been proposed over the years. One prevailing hypothesis suggests that Stonehenge served as an astronomical observatory and aligned with significant celestial events such as the summer and winter solstices. The alignment of certain stones with specific astronomical phenomena supports this theory. Fast-forward to Manhattanhenge: Tyson realized that Manhattan’s well-planned street grid, which runs east-west with broad avenues intersecting it at right angles, creates a similar effect in terms of certain celestial events. A few times a year, the opportunity for the setting and rising sun to align perfectly with the city streets comes about, casting an awe-inspiring glow across the urban landscape of Manhattan.

The event takes place two times a year, near the summer solstice in late May and again in early July, when the setting sun aligns precisely with the streets of Manhattan. On these evenings, if the weather cooperates, spectators gather along the major cross streets such as 14th, 23rd, 34th, and 42nd to witness the sun setting directly between the skyscrapers, creating a mesmerizing corridor of light.

The sight of Manhattanhenge is truly remarkable. As the sun approaches the horizon, it bathes the city’s towering buildings in a warm golden light, casting long shadows down the streets. The phenomenon is especially moving on clear evenings when the vibrant colors of the sky add to the already stunning urban backdrop. Photographers and everyday onlookers eagerly wait for the perfect moment to capture this spectacular display on camera and video.

To experience Manhattanhenge in all its glory, it is crucial to find an unobstructed view of the western horizon. Many New Yorkers and visitors position themselves on the eastern side of the cross streets, patiently waiting for the sun to align with the city grid. As the sun sinks lower, anticipation builds, and the atmosphere becomes charged with excitement. When the moment arrives, a hush falls over the crowd as they witness the glowing orb of the sun framed perfectly by the towering buildings.

Manhattanhenge not only showcases the harmonious relationship between nature and urban architecture but also serves as a reminder of the ever-changing world around us. It is a testament to the skillful planning of Manhattan’s street layout, where the alignment of the city grid merges with the cosmic dance of the sun.

While Manhattanhenge has become an iconic event in New York City, it has also inspired similar occurrences in other cities around the world. It has sparked interest in urban design, astronomy, and the intersection of nature and human-made environments. It serves as a reminder of the beauty that can be found in unexpected places and highlights the power of nature’s wonders to captivate and inspire us.

Your next opportunity to witness Manhattanhenge yourself this year lies on July 13, 2023. Make sure to bring your camera!

Anastasia Kaliabakos is a graduate of The Brearley School and the College of the Holy Cross. She has been featured in NEO Magazine, The National Herald, The Villager, and The Village Sun, and has contributed to WestView News since 2018. She will continue her passion for journalism this year as a Collegiate Network Editorial Fellow in Washington, DC.

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