This is not a television series or a firework show, but a sunset. However, this is not an ordinary sunset, but it’s rare and truly special. During this time, the sun goes down behind the horizon, getting perfectly aligned with the grid of streets that cross the area of Manhattan in New York City, so you have the optical illusion to witness the Sun disappear under your feet. This phenomenon happens approximately twice a year and for two consecutive days at a time.
Twice a year, in spring and summer, the sun sets over Manhattan so as to align completely with the city grid and descend perpendicular to the streets.
This particular phenomenon is called Manhattanhenge in reference to the ancient and mysterious arrangement of rocks of the prehistoric era called henges (a clear reference to Stonehenge, the set of stones from the Neolithic that is located in England).
In these days the sun always descends perpendicular to the city grid being framed by skyscrapers perfectly in half. During this time any street in Manhattan becomes a perfect setting for suggestive photos: an opportunity not to be missed, I always remain open-mouthed when I see it!
The best locations from which to enjoy this particular ‘sunset’ are the Flatiron district, 34th street by the Empire State Building, 42nd street by the Grand Central Station and also near the Chrysler building and Times Square.
In this occasion, it is also fun to see the multitude of people lined up on the road to take pictures and, unlike other eclipses or light phenomena, Manhattanhenge – as the name suggests – is unique to New York City. The sunset takes place under a line that coincides with the street level of the sidewalks of Manhattan: so it seems that the Sun is sinking underfoot.
Manhattanhenge is a term coined by the astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, who chose the suffix -henge to recall Stonehenge, the popular Neolithic site in England said to be an astronomical clock used by prehistoric populations for rituals connected to the Sun, even if this hypothesis is still debated.
Usually the Manhattanhenge occurs on two different occasions at the time of the summer solstice.
On both occasions, in one day the road line will cut the disc of our star (half sun) exactly halfway along, which will then appear as a crescent; while on the other day the sun will lean on the street floor (full sun), like a ball lying on the floor.
Manhattanhenge is gaining popularity every year and I have read in a photography magazine that it is in fact becoming one of the most photographed sunsets around the world.
Thanks to technology, even if you are not in New York, you can be easily reached from the Manhattanhenge sunset from the rain of images and videos on social networks indeed the hashtag #Manhattanhenge on Instagram boasts thousands of images.
Photographers who wish to photograph this splendid sunset can go along the East River side of Long Island City in order to capture the entire horizon.
Not everyone knows (not even New Yorkers!) that in reality there is also a phenomenon corresponding to the Manhattanhenge sunset also at dawn, around the time of the winter solstice, that is between December 5th and January 8th. A great reason to wake up at dawn if you're on vacation in New York at that time or for some New Yorkers (like myself) to walk to work rather than taking the subway!