Blogger Risks Life to Capture Manhattanhenge Sunset

Tonight, the evening of Saturday, May 30th I happened to be on the Second Avenue bus on my way to a post-BEA publishing party. The time was 8:10 PM. As it crossed 42nd street the bus lighted up a brilliant orange. I glance out the west window and saw the sun setting squarely at the end of the avenue. And then I remembered that tonight was Manhattanhenge, one of two annual dates on which the setting sun aligns itself perfectly with the cross-streets – at least, 42nd Street. By an extraordinary fluke I was present for that magical moment, and by even greater good luck I was carrying a camera.

I dashed off the bus at the 42nd Street stop, waited for a red light to halt the crosstown traffic, removed my trusty Panasonic Lumix from my pocket, hastily selected the settings, ran into 42nd Street and started shooting. In moments I was joined by other shutterbugs who themselves presented photo-ops almost as interesting as the sunset. The traffic light turned green and the magic was shattered as angry drivers, backs turned to the glorious spectacle and more concerned with reaching their destination than beholding cosmological wonders, started leaning on their horns. I responded with a well-practiced gesture commonly employed by New York pedestrians in their guerrilla war with car and taxi drivers.

When I returned home I googled Manhattanhenge and learned that a few days earlier Neil deGrasse Tyson had written a little piece about it for the Hayden Planetarium website, and I urge you to visit the blog. “As you may know,”Tyson writes, “Manhattanhenge takes place on two consecutive days, twice a year, when the setting Sun aligns precisely with the Manhattan street grid, creating radiant sunsets that burst across our brick and steel canyons, simultaneously illuminating both the north and south sides of every street. A rare and beautiful sight.”

It is indeed, and I’m happy to show you what it looks like. The “henge” reference is apt: gazing at that corruscating orange ball wedged in the convergence of buildings on the north and south sides of 42nd Street, it was easy to be at one with the awestruck primitives who marked the limits of the sun’s transit with a crude stone memorial.

Richard Curtis


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