Manhattanhenge. Heard of it?
Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, director of the Hayden Planetarium at NYC’s American Museum of Natural History wrote an essay and starred in a short NOVA Science Now video to describe how a few days in the year, the sun aligns with the street grid of Manhattan. On these days, you could stand on the east-west cross streets of Manhattan, look west, and (if it’s not cloudy) watch the sun appear to set in the center of the street, flanked by skyscrapers. Tyson even postulated, “Future anthropologists might conclude that, via the Sun, the people who called themselves Americans worshiped War and Baseball,” since the two sunset alignment days fall equidistantly before and after the summer solstice (May 30/Memorial Day and July 12/Major League Baseball’s All Star break).
While Manhattenhenge is popularized by the dramatic sunset photos taken by modern-day druids, the sun also aligns to the Manhattan street grid on certain days at sunrise. Due to the grid’s orientation, the lesser known occurrences of Manhattanhenge happen days before and after the winter solstice (December 5 and January 8). At these times, you could once again stand on the east-west cross streets of Manhattan, look east, and watch the sun rise over the horizon flanked with buildings. But who wants to get up early in the morning in the middle of winter when you could just as easily see this phenomenon when it’s warm and at the end of the day?
Thanks to this week’s challenge, I turn Manhattanhenge on its head! Watching the sun rise may never be as popular as watching the sun set. And I definitely agree that Manhattan takes the top prize for its dramatic urban canyon effect during Manhattanhenge sunsets. But if you’re willing to buck these two popular trends and be different, then I believe Queens has something to offer an intrepid traveler that Manhattan can never offer: a double sunrise.
On February 20th, I stood in Gantry Plaza State Park in Long Island City before dawn. The Manhattan skyline was dark and as sunrise approached, the sky started to take on light pink and purple hues. These colors softly casted the skyline in a way never seen at other times of the day. This beautiful sight was worth the early wake-up time but in a short while, I learned that it was not the main attraction…
As time passed, I faced west to see the Manhattan skyline aglow. I then turned towards the east, and witnessed the sun rising perfectly from the center of the street and between the twin monolithic condo towers on 48th Avenue.
As if this moment of serendipity was not enough, I turned once again to face west and Manhattan. I was presented with a grand surprise—the sun rose over Queens precisely between the Long Island City condo towers, and it was reflected in the Manhattan skyscrapers and the East River thereby creating the illusion of a second sunrise! Taking a cue from Dr. Tyson, I hereby coin the term “Queenshenge” to describe this phenomenon.
If these topics of sun orientation and urban landscape interests you, I suggest you check out this fascinating project called LIC Sundial, where artist Heidi Neilson treated the solitary Citibank building in Long Island City as a sundial to explore the shadows it cast within a year. In fact, she even designed a poster to describe Manhattanhenge.
Gantry Plaza State Park
Center Boulevard between 47th Road and 49th Avenue
Long Island City, Queens
7 Train to Vernon Boulevard-Jackson Avenue or
G Train to 21st Street/Jackson Avenue
FREE / Hours: Dawn to Dusk
*More of Pabo76’s work can be found on his flickr page.