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'Manhattanhenge' Proves the Sun Orbits New York

Manhattanhenge on 42nd Street
The sun shines down 42nd Street in New York City at sunset during "Manhattanhenge," May 30, 2011. Photographer: Xinhua News Agency/eyevine/Redux

By Tom Randall

At Stonehenge, England, thousands of revelers gather annually on the longest day of the year, when ancient stone megaliths frame the rising sun. In New York City, a similar alignment occurs. It's called Manhattanhenge, and tonight is the night.

On May 30 at 8:16 p.m. and again on July 11 at 8:24 p.m., Manhattanhenge reaches its point of perfection as the full setting sun aligns with the city's grid of East-West streets, according to the American Museum of Natural History's Hayden Planetarium. The best places to view the fiery canyon of skyscrapers are at 14th, 23rd, 34th, 42nd, 57th Streets. The Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building offer especially good views.

While other cities in the world may mark their own “-henge” days, Manhattan's rigid street grid and the New York area's relatively low-lying geography make the island unique. The city’s East-West streets are straight and lined with nearly unbroken skyscrapers, from riverbank to riverbank. The sun descends to a nearby horizon line formed by the Hudson River and, beyond it, New Jersey.

If the New York street grid were aligned with the four cardinal directions -- North, South, East, West -- Manhattanhenge would occur twice annually, on the spring and fall equinoxes. As any New Yorker with a smartphone compass can tell you, that's not the case. Instead, New Yorkers observe their own celestial event as further confirmation that the Universe was built around Manhattan.

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-0- May/30/2012 14:30 GMT

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