The Manhattan Equinox

This might not be a big deal to those of you from outside the greater New York metro area, known to New Yorkers as out in the sticks or, in hipster vernacular, Pennsyltucky. But to folks who live in (or, in cases like mine, commute into) environs where direct sunlight is as rare of a commodity as, say, knockoff designer watches are out yonder in Pennsyltucky, it’s a big to do. Anyway, tonight at 8:15, the sun set directly down the center line of west-facing streets.

This is the view from just east of Herald Square, which is the intersection of 34th Street, Broadway and 6th Avenue as well as the site of Miracle of 34th Street (though the movie takes place in that department store in the right side of the frame).

Okay, okay… fact of the matter is, Manhattanites as a group don’t really think it’s that big of a deal. But they should. Lied to by subway maps and street signs for decades, it turns out our tightly regimented grid misses ‘true’ compass directions by an angle 28.9°. Add to that our distance from the equator and, well, let’s just say it’s impressive the sun ever sets here at all. The fact that, even once in a blue moon, it does so at the beginnings and ends of east-to-west running streets seems nigh impossible.

Alas, of course, it does. According to the Wiki Elves, weather permitting, one can behold a midlane sunset like today’s every May 28th, and again on July 12-13th. For midlane sunrises on the east end of town, you’ll have to get up early on December 5th or January 8th. Note that the length of time between sunset dates is 45 days, while the wait between sunrises is only 34 days; I’d speculate on possible conspiracy theories, but this is clearly the result of poor city planning.

Wikipedia credits astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson with coining the term for this phenomenon ‘Manhattanhenge’. An unnamed source — a mysterious, pronounless entity — sometimes refers to it as ‘Manhattan Solstice’. For my money, I believe that Manhattan Equinox is more accurate. To review: the equinox is the day when, at the equator, the sun rises in the east, hangs directly overhead at noon, and sets in the west causing day and night to be of equal duration (at least in theory: twilight (an effect of the atmosphere) and the fact that the sun is disk-shaped rather than a single point of light make day a bit longer). The solstice is when the sun sets as far north (or south) as it does during the course of the year, and daylight lasts the longest (or shortest). If you know someone refering to today’s celestial festivities as the Manhattan Solstice, please encourage them to hang their head in shame and/or change their wrongful ways.


4 Responses to “The Manhattan Equinox”

  1. wow!
    I had no idea Jersey could radiate so much light. Then again, there was Bon Jovi.

  2. Eric S. Says:

    True, that. Also, thanks for coining the term Pennsyltucky.

  3. Osawe Suhail Hampton Says:

    Beautiful, Steph

  4. Osawe Suhail Hampton Says:


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