Today is Manhattanhenge, the unofficial nerds-taking-sunset-photos-in-the-middle-of-the-street holiday in New York City. Cabbies, beware.
A quirk of New York City geography allows for the stunning spectacle: The city’s cross streets are tilted 30 degrees from a perfect east-west alignment.
Superstar astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, who first coined the term, explains:
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, in the Salisbury Plain of England. For Stonehenge, the special day is the summer solstice, when the Sun rises in perfect alignment with several of the stones, signaling the change of season.
For Manhattan, a place where evening matters more than morning, that special day comes twice a year. For 2014 they fall on May 29th, and July 12th, 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.
But tonight’s show will have a question mark. Clouds have been flitting over the city all day, and the current forecast is for them to thicken this evening. If you’re in a windowless office (or just too lazy), you can use the National Weather Service’s continuously updating satellite map to track the cumulus invasion this afternoon via New Jersey.
As of now, I’d give it a 50/50 shot of excessive cloud blockage at the critical moment of sunset: 8:19 p.m. Oh, and don’t forget a jacket: It’ll be 20 degrees cooler than the 80s of this past weekend.
Assuming the clouds hold off, wider cross streets—like 34th and 42nd in Midtown—offer the best views, but smaller streets may help avoid that whole taxi target-practice thing if you’re planning to loiter in the crosswalk to snap a photo. To maximize the concrete-canyon effect, set yourself up on the east side of town—across the city from the setting sun.
Contrary to the name, the view isn’t limited to Manhattan: Wide streets elsewhere in the city, like those in Park Slope, Brooklyn, Astoria, Queens, or the South Bronx, are also roughly aligned to Manhattan’s grid and should provide a similar view. In fact, the Queens side of the East River makes for a spectacular vantage:
It turns out pretty much every neighborhood in the city has its own special day. For example, if tonight’s show is cloudy, hipsters need not fret: There’s a Williamsburghenge on June 20. The buildings aren’t quite as tall there, but that’s part of the reason you don’t live in Manhattan, right?