New Yorkers can watch a setting sun between skyscrapers from May 29 through July 12.

By Jamie Carter
Updated July 06, 2020
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It’s perhaps the ultimate natural urban phenomenon. On four days every year, both before and after the summer solstice, the sun rises and sets between skyscrapers in New York City, revealing that Manhattan’s street grid is, in fact, solar-aligned.

Welcome to Manhattanhenge, which is about to take place, as two stunning sunsets "kiss the grid" this summer. Here's everything you need to know about where, when, and how to see this year's Manhattanhenge.

The day after of the Manhattanhenge. The setting sun is aligned with the 42nnd street Midtown and illuminates the traffic and buildings on the grid of Manhattan, New York City on June 01, 2017.
| Credit: Toshi Sasaki/Getty Images

What is Manhattanhenge?  

Manhattanhenge is an astronomical event that occurs every year before and after the summer solstice, when the sun aligns perfectly with New York City’s street grid. Folks in Manhattan can stand in the middle of any east-west numbered street and watch the sun low on the horizon between buildings.

There are four sunsets and four sunrises, and two of each take place on successive evenings and mornings. The rectangular Manhattan street grid, which is responsible for the alignment, was originally designed in 1811, after the population of the city nearly tripled in just 20 years.

When and Where to See Manhattanhenge in May 2020

The first two of four Manhattanhenge sunsets will happen in May. On Friday, May 29, New Yorkers should — lockdown permitting — stand on an east-west numbered street on the grid of Manhattan, with a clear view to the Hudson River, and look west to see the sun set between buildings at 8:13 p.m. The following evening, on Saturday, May 30, the same thing will happen at 8:12 p.m. The only difference is that while Friday’s event will be a "half sun" on the grid, Saturday’s will be a "full sun," with our star appearing to "sit" on the grid.

When and Where to See Manhattanhenge in July 2020

After May’s Manhattanhenge, the sun’s position at sunset will appear to shift to the south. But after the summer solstice, it will once again move north. The outcome is the exact same, but in reverse; at 8:20 p.m. on Saturday, July 11, a "full sun" will be viewable between buildings, and at 8:21 p.m. on Sunday, July 12, there will be a "half sun."

What is the Manhattanhenge Effect?

However, you don’t just have to be in position at those specific times. Every evening between May 30 and July 12, 2020, the sun will be visible somewhere between the skyscrapers when it’s close to setting. It will appear to pass higher and higher each night in the run-up to the summer solstice, and lower and lower afterwards. “It’s because of the symmetry of the way that the orbit of the Earth around the Sun works,” says Jackie Faherty, astrophysicist at New York City’s American Museum of Natural History. “Once you reach the summer solstice, when the sun appears to stand still, the position of the sun changes, reversing its position on the sky in reference to your horizon.” This is the Manhattanhenge effect — a chance to see and appreciate Earth’s orbit of the sun with your own eyes.

Why is it called Manhattanhenge?

It relates to one of the wonders of the world — Stonehenge, a 5,000-year-old Neolithic structure in Wiltshire, England, that was built to align with the movement of the sun. However, Manhattanhenge is nowhere near as historic as that monument. “The term was coined by our director, Neil deGrasse Tyson, who about 10 years ago, started to note the days of the year where the sun aligned perfectly with the grid of Manhattan,” says Faherty. “I took over calculating the day and time, so every year, I carefully look at the position of the sun and Earth and report dates and times on my website for when it's best to see the sun ‘kiss the grid’ of Manhattan.”