Manhattanhenge: A Glorious Phenomenon!

Jun 6, 2018 By James, Writer Intern
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Recently, photographers flocked to New York City to capture one of the most beautiful phenomenon -- Manhattanhenge!

On May 29 and 30, the sunset perfectly aligned with the grid of buildings on Manhattan island. People took pictures as the setting sun bathed the buildings and east-west-facing roads in golden light.

The term Manhattanhenge was coined by Neil deGrasse Tyson, a famous astrophysicist. Why does this amazing phenomenon occur?

What Causes Cityhenges?

As the saying goes, the Sun rises in the east and sets in the west. So, logically, if the streets are aligned east-west, the Sun should shine through the streets, isn't it?

However, the streets of Manhattan are not perfectly aligned to cardinal east and west. In fact, they are 29 degrees off. If the street grid had been perfectly aligned, the phenomenon would occur on the equinoxes during March and September. Also, the sun actually sets a little north of "true west" each day and keeps moving until the June solstice, after which it reverses direction and gets closer to "true west" each day. This is why Manhattanhenge can be seen twice - once in May and again in July. 

There are streets in other major cities that have a similar effect as Manhattanhenge. For instance, Chicagohenge and Torontohenge are also well-known cityhenges. However, in these cities, there are many features that obstruct the view of the Sun. Manhattanhenge still is one-of-a-kind with the Hudson River and low buildings on the other side (New Jersey) making for a spectacular view.

Stonehenge

By definition, the word “henge” is a prehistoric monument with upright stone or wooden structures. These henges were built during the Neolithic period and are unique to the British Isles. They usually consist of a circle of stone structures, with a ditch dug around them. Mystery still surrounds these structures, but experts believe that they might have been used for ritual and astronomical purposes. Unfortunately, no written records were found, so nothing can be concluded for sure.

The most famous, of course, is Stonehenge. Built around 3000 B.C., Stonehenge is considered more contemporary compared to the other henges, and it shares a few differences with its counterparts. There is evidence that Stonehenge may have been a burial site, unlike other henges which were used as places to live in. Stonehenge consists of a ring of stone structures surrounding five trilithons in a horseshoe shape (trilithons are stone structures consisting of two vertical stones capped by a horizontal stone). What makes Stonehenge unique is that the horseshoe perfectly aligns with the sunset of the winter solstice and the sunrise of the summer solstice.

Over time, parts of Stonehenge were destroyed or ruined, as the surrounding land was used for military purposes. Fortunately, efforts had been made to restore it. Now, Stonehenge is one of UNESCO’s national heritage sites, and it attracts many visitors every year.

If you want to see the Manhattanhenge and plan to visit New York sometime in the near future, the phenomenon will happen again in July. Or visit Stonehenge to witness the sunrise during the summer solstice. Either way, you will definitely encounter a sight worth seeing!

Sources: NYTimes, Wikipedia, Scientific American, english-heritage.org.uk, tripping.com