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Wednesday, June 1, 2011

A rare and beautiful sight: A spectacular end to a sunny Memorial Day


Urban phenomenon: The sun shines down on 42nd Street at the end of Memorial Day during the biannual occurrence coined 'Manhattanhenge' by astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson

One of the most beautiful things in nature must surely be the sun rising and setting.

When that sunset happens to align with a street grid, basking a city that never sleeps in a radiant glow of light, even busy New Yorkers would be pushed not to stop and marvel at its brilliance.

It's that time of year again known as 'Manhattanhenge' - when the sun aligns precisely with the street grid in Manhattan, simultaneously illuminating both the north and south sides of every cross street of the borough's grid.

Sun rising up: Manhattanhenge occurs when the setting sun aligns itself with the east-west grid of streets in Manhattan, allowing the sun to shine down all streets at the same time

This special day - also known as Manhattan solstice - comes twice a year. This year it falls on May 30 and July 12 - when the sun sets with half the disc sitting above and half below the horizon. Though fans can also enjoy the spectacular views on May 31 and July 11 when at sunset, you can see the entire ball of the sun on the horizon.

The times are calculated every year by the astronomer Neil deGrasse Tyson, an astrophysicist and director of the Hayden Planetarium in New York, who coined the term 'Manhattanhenge' in 2002, named after the British Stonehenge, which celebrates summer and winter solstice.

Though in New York it does not signal the solstice - the changing of the season - due to the position of Manhattan's grid.

Beautiful: This occurs in Manhattan due to a clear view to the horizon beyond the grid - across the Hudson River to New Jersey - as well as the tall buildings that line the streets, creating a vertical channel to frame the sun

Mr deGrasse Tyson explains: 'In spite of what pop-culture tells you, the sun rises due east and sets due west only twice per year on the equinoxes - the first day of spring and of autumn. Every other day, the sun rises and sets elsewhere on the horizon.

'Had Manhattan's grid been perfectly aligned with the geographic north-south line, then the days of Manhattanhenge would coincide with the equinoxes. But Manhattan's street grid is rotated 30 degrees east from geographic north, shifting the days of alignment elsewhere into the calendar.'

Mr deGrasse Tyson notes that the dates correspond with Memorial day and Baseball's All Star Break.

He said: 'Future anthropologists might conclude that, via the sun, the people who called themselves Americans worshipped war and baseball.'

Namesake: Manhattanhenge is named after Stonehenge in England when the sun Sun rises in perfect alignment with several of the stones, signaling the change of season

Last year: The sun illuminates New York's 34th Street during 2010's Manhattanhenge as well as the city's iconic Empire State Building

He explains that the reason this unique urban phenomenon occurs in Manhattan is due to a clear view to the horizon beyond the grid - as New York does across the Hudson River to New Jersey. Combine that with the tall buildings which line the streets, creating a vertical channel to frame the sun and you get a rare and striking photographic opportunity.

To get the best view of this rare and beautiful sight, sun watchers need to be as far east in Manhattan as possible and look west across the avenues.

The best places to get a view are the Empire State or Chrysler buildings as well as along 14th, 23rd, 34th, 42nd, and 57th Streets.

Tonight, Manhattanites can view the full ball of the sun at 8.17pm for about ten minutes.

source: dailymail


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