May 24th, 2008

Manhattanhenge 2008

Posted in EVENTS, NYC by Heidi

Earlier posts about the phenomena of Manhattanhenge: overview and map, and photos.

From the Hayden Planetarium’s “Star Struck” email announcement by astronomer Neal deGrasse Tyson:

It’s that time of year again….MANHATTANHENGE 2008

What will future civilizations think of Manhattan Island when they dig it up and find a carefully laid out network of streets and avenues? Surely the grid would be presumed to have astronomical significance, just as we have found for the pre-historic circle of large vertical rocks known as Stonehenge, in the Salisbury Plain of England. For Stonehenge, the special day is the summer solstice, when the Sun rose in perfect alignment with several of the stones, signaling the change of season.

For Manhattan, a place where evening matters more than morning, that special day comes on Thursday, May 29h this year, one of only two occasions when the Sun sets in exact alignment with the Manhattan grid, fully illuminating every single cross-street for the last fifteen minutes of daylight. The other day is Saturday, July 12th.

These two days give you a photogenic view with half the Sun above and half the Sun below the horizon — on the grid. The day after May 29th (Friday, May 30th), and the day before July 12 (Friday, July 11) will also give you Manhattanhenge moments, but instead you will see the entire ball of the Sun on the horizon — on the grid. My personal preference is the half-Sun.

As you may know, had Manhattan’s grid been perfectly aligned with the geographic north-south line, then the days of Manhattanhenge would be the spring and autumn equinoxes, the only two days on the calendar when the Sun rises due-east and sets due-west. But Manhattan’s street grid is rotated 30 degrees east from geographic north, shifting the days of alignment elsewhere into the calendar.

Note that any city crossed by a rectangular grid can identify days where the setting Sun aligns with their streets. But a closer look at such cities around the world shows them to be less than ideal for this purpose. Beyond the grid you need a clear view to the horizon, as we have over New Jersey. And tall buildings that line the streets create a kind of brick and steel channel to frame the setting Sun, creating a striking photographic opportunity.

True, some municipalities have streets named after the Sun, like Sunrise Highway on Long Island and the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles. But these roads are not perfectly straight. And the few times a year when the Sun aligns with one of their stretches of road, all you get is stalled traffic solar glare temporarily blinds drivers.

So Manhattanhenge may just be a unique urban phenomenon in the world, if not the universe.

Note that a couple of years ago, an article in the New York Times identified this annual event as the “Manhattan Solstice”. But of course, the word “solstice” translates from the Latin solstitium, meaning “stopped sun,” in reference to the winter and summer solstices where the Sun’s daily arc across the sky reaches its extreme southerly and northerly limits. Manhattanhenge comes about because the Sun’s arc has *not* yet reached these limits, and is on route to them, as we catch a brief glimpse of the setting Sun along the canyons of our narrow streets.

IMPORTANT: For best effect, position yourself as far east in Manhattan as possible. But ensure that when you look west across the avenues you can still see New Jersey. Clear cross streets include 14th, 23rd, 34th. 42nd, 57th, and several streets adjacent to them. The Empire State building and the Chrysler building render 34th street and 42nd streets especially striking vistas.

Arrive a half-hour earlier than the times given below.


Half Sun on grid: Thursday, May 29 — 8:17 p.m. EDT
Full Sun on grid: Friday, May 30 — 8:16 p.m. EDT


Half Sun on grid: Saturday, July 12 — 8:25 p.m. EDT
Full Sun on grid: Friday, July 11 — 8:24 p.m. EDT
Downloadable Image of the July 2001 “Manhattan Sunset” as it first appeared in 2002 among the photo-essays of “City of Stars,” Natural History magazine:

May 9th, 2008

San Petronio Basilica

Posted in Sundials of Note by Heidi

The Basilica of San Petronio is the main church of Bologna, the old città d’arte in the Emilia Romagna region of Italy. The church hosts also a sundial in the form of a meridian line inlaid in the paving of the left aisle in 1655; it was calculated and designed by the famous astronomer Giovanni Domenico Cassini, who was teaching astronomy at the University: at 66.8 meters it is the longest sundial in the world, following measurements that were for the time uniquely precise.

The video below shows the passage of the sun on the Cassini’s meridian line inside San Petronio in Bologna on the 30th November 2007. Thanks to matutianu1935 of YouTube-

April 28th, 2008

McDonald’s sundial billboard

Posted in digressions by Heidi

Chicago, summer of 2006 :

Designed by ad agency Leo Burnett with the input of an engineer, the billboard features a real sundial whose shadow falls on a different breakfast item each hour until noon, when the shadow of the McDonald’s arches are dead center. The billboard, which went up near the intersection of Clark and Addison on Friday, is the latest in a campaign aimed at urging Chicagoans to turn to McDonald’s for breakfast.


April 24th, 2008

9:50 April 24th

Posted in eyewitness, Zone03-9 am by Heidi

Looking toward the elevated 7 train, toward the gnomon, on 44th drive.

9:50 April 24th

April 22nd, 2008

Dubai’s skyscraper sundial

Posted in artists/projects, Sundials of Note by Heidi

TIMEPLACE Tower, Dubai: 35 storeys, 158m + 40m sundial

Timeplace incorporates a huge sundial on top of the skyscraper so that the sundial’s shadow falls across the building’s cylindrical shape, allowing the time to be seen from miles away and from everywhere within the Marina.

Timeplace tower, Dubai

Timeplace tower, Dubai

April 18th, 2008

10:50 April 16

Posted in eyewitness, Zone04-10 am by Heidi

10:50 April 16

April 6th, 2008

Coral Castle

Posted in artists/projects, Sundials of Note by Heidi

Edward Leedskalin moved to Florida in around 1919 and proceeded to single-handedly build a massive coral monument, which is now a tourist attraction known as Coral Castle (and which has a sundial within it). No one knows exactly how he managed quarrying, moving and sculpting over 1000 tons of coral by himself–when asked, Leedskalin gave vauge and cryptic answers. He wrote a few pamplets, some of which described his theories on magnetism, such as how electricity can be stored in a magnetic loop for months (here’s the “code” to some of these ideas).

Coral castle

(thanks to flickr mad short chick for image)

March 31st, 2008

Beijing Ancient Observatory

Posted in digressions, observatories, planetaria by Heidi

The Beijing Observatory is a pretelescopic observatory in Beijing, China, and is one of the oldest observatories in the world. The tools used were built in 1442 during the Ming Dynasty. It has a number of bronze instruments, including a celestial globe. More info.

beijing observatory 1

beijing observatory 2

March 28th, 2008

celestial treasure

Posted in digressions, planetaria by Heidi

A starchart globe/planetarium is in the treasure collection at the Forbidden City in Beijing, China.

china planetarium

March 24th, 2008

Singleton, Australia

Posted in Sundials of Note by Heidi

One of the contestants for world’s largest sundial resides in Singleton, Australia–it has various claims for largest in Southern Hemisphere, etc. It was the major feature of the Bicentennial Riverside Park Project. Construction of the Sundial was financed by Lemington Coal Mine, a State Bicentennial Grant and generous contributions from mining, industry and community groups within and around Singleton. More info. And more.

Singleton Sundial, photo by Rachel Jackson