Expert Tips for Viewing Sunrise Manhattanhenge and the December SuperMoon

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Each year, twice a year, New Yorkers are treated to a phenomenon called Manhattanhenge, when the city’s street grid aligns with the setting Sun almost perfectly. But at this time of year, Manhattan’s concrete canyons are due to frame the Sun’s rise, for an early morning version of Manhattanhenge you won’t want to miss.

 

Sun shines at street level between tall office buildings.

A view of sunrise Manhattanhenge from 42nd Street and Grand Central Station on January 4, 2014, at 7:30 am. 

© B. Levine


According to Museum Senior Scientist Jackie Faherty, the best spots to view the sunrise Manhattanhenge will be on 34th Street or 42nd Street, looking east toward Long Island City’s Gantry Plaza State Park. But make sure you’re set up to take photos by the time the Sun moves into alignment at 7:03 am each day. 

Tomorrow, Saturday, December 2, the Sun will sit perfectly at the horizon. After that, from December 3 through December 5, the Sun will dip ever so slightly below the horizon when it crosses the grid.

Want to make sure you get an epic photograph? “The cliff face topography of Queens, Bronx, and Brooklyn means that if you want the sunrise picture, you need to get a clear view across the river,” says Faherty. “Use Google Maps to scout out a location where the river looks wide, the buildings are low, and the landscape is close to the horizon.”

Lighting conditions will be intense, so Faherty advises against using the Sun as a light meter. “Balancing somewhere between the street and the Sun is usually aesthetically pleasing.”

While Manhattanhenge is a spectacular sight, always keep in mind that looking directly at the Sun is dangerous, even though the light that occurs during sunrise and sunset is safer to view than at other points in the day. “Sunrise and sunset times are when the Sun is just on or above the horizon. At that level, the light from the Sun has to travel through a lot of atmosphere in order to get to you, so much of its intensity is diffused,” she says. Still, looking directly at the sun is unsafe, so use solar filters if you’ve kept ones from this summer’s solar eclipse.

This week is the last time the Sun will rise in alignment with Manhattan’s streets in 2017. (Though you can catch this sight again around January 11–12, 2018.)

And if your eyes are turned toward the sky this weekend, especially in the evening this Sunday, December 3, you’ll catch yet another impressive celestial event: a SuperMoon, which astronomers call a perigee syzygy.

 

Giant-seeming moon looms over the horizon.

The November 14, 2016, SuperMoon, as seen from the Cronan Ranch Regional Trails Park in Pilot Hill, California.

Courtesy of B. Wick/Bureau of Land Management/Flickr


A perigee syzygy is a full moon at the closest point in its orbit around Earth. The orbit’s shape changes, so this SuperMoon won’t be as spectacular as the November 2016 showstopper, but Faherty says you can still see a spectacular sight on the late afternoon of Sunday, December 3. 

“Head to the tallest building in the city: Empire State building, One World Trade, Top of the Rock—whatever will get you a clear view of the East and West rivers,” says Faherty. “Be all set up around 4:30 pm, and you will witness my favorite evening spectacle that happens around the full moon: You can watch the moonrise and then the sunset. At around 4:59 the Moon will start to emerge from the horizon. Then wait as the light changes both from the bright Moon rising on the eastern horizon and the Sun setting on the western. That happens right around 5:49 pm.”

 

Tags: Sun, Moon