May 28, 2004
Besides it being the start of the summer, today is very special: The sun will set in the centerline of every NYC street (photobloggers, get ready!). American Museum of Natural History astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson desrcribes this phenomenon beautifully in the Natural History Magazine, explaining that like Stonehenge where the sun sets in alignment with stones during the summer solstice, Manhattan has two "special" days where the sun sets between buildings - May 28 and July 12:
On these days, the Sun fully illuminates every single cross street during the last fifteen minutes of daylight and sets exactly on the street's centerline. Upon studying American culture and what is important to it, future anthropologists might take the Manhattan alignments to be cosmic signs of Memorial Day and, of course, baseball's All-Star break.
If the Manhattan grid matched the geographic north-south line, then our special days would be the equinoxes, the two days on the calendar when the Sun rises due east and sets due west. But Manhattan is rotated 30 degrees east from geographic north, shifting the special days elsewhere in the calendar.
And from the comments to that article:
sam: "I remember the first time I saw this happen, when I first moved to the city (many years ago). I didn't know what the phenomenon was called, but I remember being strangely compelled to walk home from work that day (about 40 blocks) just so I could keep watching the sun. And I totally thought of Stonehenge at the time."
Manhattan Sunset Photos | Manhattan Sunset Pictures | Manhattan Solstice Video