Manhattanhenge 2024: When and Where to Watch

A low cap of clouds toyed with New Yorkers on Tuesday as they attempted to take in the first night of the solar spectacle known as Manhattanhenge. On Wednesday evening, many may try to see the event again.

Each year at the end of May, and again in mid-July, residents and tourists alike flood the streets of Manhattan for a spectacular view of the sun setting in the west, flanked by the city’s famous streetscapes. The event attracts more people each year, some gathering in dense crowds as they dart in and out of the streets, their necks tilted and their camera lenses raised to catch a view.

“I think of it as astronomy in your face,” said Jackie Faherty, an astronomer at the American Museum of Natural History who computes the dates for Manhattanhenge each year. “It’s like a huge science party that will occur in the city.”

The event’s popularity most likely goes beyond an interest in science, Dr. Faherty added: People love a good photo op, and when the weather cooperates, Manhattanhenge delivers.

This year, Manhattanhenge’s first night occurred on Tuesday, May 28. More opportunities to see it will occur Wednesday, May 29, then again on July 12 and 13.

According to the American Museum of Natural History, Manhattanhenge will next reach its fullest effect at 8:12 p.m. on Wednesday, local time. In July, the event will occur at 8:21 p.m. on the 12th and 8:20 p.m. on the 13th.

The sunset will appear different on consecutive days. On May 28, the top half of the sun aligned with the city grid, although clouds obscured the full effect. On Wednesday, the full sun will be visible. Later in the summer, this pattern reverses: Viewers will see a full sun on July 12, and the top half of the sun on July 13.

Probably. A National Weather Service forecast issued on Wednesday predicted that clouds would cover most of the skies in New York City at 8 p.m. this coming evening.

Sunsets are one of the easiest ways to embrace “the wonder of the cosmos,” Dr. Faherty said, adding that each one is distinct. “You never know how the light is going to look or feel as it is setting, or what the atmosphere around you will be like.”

Longer days, warmer weather and the school year winding down in New York City make Manhattanhenge “just that extra notch up,” she said. “The whole thing is just a nice, relaxing summer party and celebration of astronomy.”

The sun setting perfectly between New York’s urban canyons results from the geometry of the sun and Earth.

The sun sets in a different location every day because Earth is tilted on its axis as it orbits the sun, Dr. Faherty said. In the spring, she explained, if you watched the sun looking west from the same spot, you’d notice that the place where it sets moved a little north relative to the horizon each day.

After the summer solstice, which occurs on June 20 this year, the sun starts inching back south. “It pingpongs between solstices,” Dr. Faherty said. “And that’s because we’re going around the sun, like doing loops around a track.”

That’s also why there are two chances to see Manhattanhenge, in May and in July; the dates occur on either side of the summer solstice. Between these dates, viewers can still catch the sun emerge from behind the city’s skyscrapers as it sets, though it will appear at different heights in the sky.

It’s a season of “epic sunsets in New York City,” Dr. Faherty said.

In the 1800s, city planners designed New York City as a grid: Its avenues run roughly north to south, and its cross streets are laid out at 90-degree angles, running approximately east to west.

As long as this grid has existed, people have likely noticed the phenomenon, Dr. Faherty said.

The earliest mention of this effect that Dr. Faherty has been able to track down is a 1997 comic strip published in Natural History magazine. Neil deGrasse Tyson, director of the Hayden Planetarium, coined the name “Manhattanhenge” in 2002, inspired by the ancient Stonehenge monument in England.

Since then, excitement surrounding the event has grown every year. “People caught on and it lit like wildfire,” Dr. Faherty said.

Among the most popular places to watch this special sunset is the Tudor City overpass, a pedestrian walkway above 42nd Street. The vantage point offers a good view of the Chrysler Building.

Another favored location for photographers is the Park Avenue Viaduct a few avenues west, near Grand Central Station. But pedestrians aren’t allowed up there, and police will likely show up to clear any gathering crowds.

But any street running east to west in Manhattan with good visibility of New Jersey is fair game. For the best views (and photos), Dr. Faherty recommends finding a wide road framed by notable city structures.

On 34th Street, you’ll see the Empire State Building; elsewhere on 42nd Street, you might be able to position Times Square in your frame. Wide roads like 14th Street, 23rd Street and 57th Street are also popular. Uptown on 145th Street and Hunters Point in Queens offer unconventional views.

“You have to be in the middle of the street to fully appreciate it,” Dr. Faherty said, so keep safety in mind when picking a spot.

A similar effect occurs at sunrise in November and January, roughly six months after the Manhattanhenge sunset dates. Dr. Faherty call this Reverse Manhattanhenge.

But the dates for Reverse Manhattanhenge are more difficult to calculate, she said, because the sun rises to the east over the city’s other boroughs.

“The Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens — they’re big, they have a lot of topography to them,” Dr. Faherty said. “There’s a lot more things that get in the way.”

That adds challenges to determining when there will be a clear view of the rising sun. And because the weather isn’t as good, Reverse Manhattanhenge tends to draw a smaller crowd.

John Keefe contributed reporting.

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