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Manhattanhenge: Clear View Anticipated After Clouds Obscured May Skies

By Kristen Rodman, AccuWeather.com Staff Writer
July 11, 2014; 4:00 AM ET

Known for Central Park, the Empire State Building, Broadway and Rockefeller Center, the borough of Manhattan in New York City has a life of its own. Even more uniquely, however, it has its own "solstices."

Four times a year, the sun perfectly aligns with the city's street grid, east to west and north to south, producing a phenomenon known today as Manhattanhenge. This happens twice in the summer during the setting sun and twice in the winter during the rising sun. The first appereance occurred Friday, May 30, and Saturday, July 12, will be the last summer appearance.

This picturesque sunset is caused by the city's grid layout with its cross streets set up east to west and the Earth's rotation.

"The setting sun sets behind to the west, perfectly aligned with the street grid of New York City enough so we get not one but two shots of the sun, said Dave Brody, Science Writer for Space.com. "When that happens all that beautiful golden sunlight bounces," creating a few moments of magic through the streets of the bustling Big Apple.

The phenomena known as "Manhattanhenge" occurs twice each summer when the sun perfectly aligns with New York City's street grid. (Flickr/Grisha Levit)

This year's full Manhattanhenge will arise Friday, July 11, at 8:24 p.m., and the half sunset on Saturday, July 12, at 8:25 p.m.

As cloudy skies inhibited the summer's first viewings on Thursday and Friday, May 29 and 30, July's viewing conditions will be much better for those looking to catch a glimpse of the setting sun.

"Both nights should be good viewing wise," AccuWeather Meteorologist Alyson Hoegg said. "Both nights will be clear to partly cloudy."

Unlike the winter sunrise, the summer sunset "gives a view straight across the city with the rivers on either side, the water giving a clear view to the sunset," American Museum of Natural History Astrophysicist, Jackie Faherty told AccuWeather.com.

Manhattanhenge got its name from Stonehenge, a prehistoric monument in England which displays a similar happening when once a year the sun rises in perfect alignment with the stones. Manhattanhenge gained popularity in 2002, thanks to astrophysicist, Neil deGrasse Tyson, who coined the term in 2001.

Other cities in the United States and Canada also observe their own solstice including Chicago, Baltimore, Toronto and Montreal.

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However, New York City is one of a kind due to the Hudson River and low cliffs of New Jersey which help set the perfect scene. New York City's famous buildings act as pillars to frame the setting sun, giving the ultimate opportunity for the photo of a lifetime.

Typically, crowds accumulate on the most obvious streets in the city, such as 23rd and 42nd, in an attempt to catch a shot of the action. Due to the city setup for the perfect view of the sunset, one must stand in the middle of the street, dangerous in and of itself in the Big Apple. Faherty explains that one-way streets may be the best option to avoid the crowds and enjoy the view.

"Find your favorite building, avoid well-known iconic buildings and try one-ways where there is not a lot of heavy traffic," said Faherty.

For a great view of a perfect New York City summer sunset, head outside on Friday night around 8 p.m. To snap the perfect photo, see the tips below from Professional Photographer and Owner of Caralee Rose Photography, Caralee Heller.

Clear skies made for perfect viewing conditions for Manhattanhenge on July 11, 2012. (Flickr/slgckgc)

How to photograph Manhattanhenge:

1. The best location:

- Avoid traffic and crowds of people.

- Know the times for the actual sunset and get there at least 30 minutes prior to setup.

- Scope out a location ahead of time so you know how to get there, don't worry and don't miss the event.

2. What lens to use for what you want to capture:

- If you want the whole scene with the buildings and the city, go with a wide-angle, such as a 24-50mm or even as low as a 16-33mm.

- For just the sun, use a tighter crop, maybe the telephoto lens, between 200-600mm.

- Want the city traffic and the buildings? Use 200-400 mm.

3. The proper exposure setting:

- Use the manual setting, set your ISO to 200-400, so you won't need a tripod.

- Don't point the light meter into the sun.

- Bracket your exposure by shooting one full stop lighter and one darker than the light meter exposure.

Send your pictures to @breakingweather or upload them to AccuWeather's Facebook Page!

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of AccuWeather, Inc. or AccuWeather.com

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