Screenshot of Manhattanhenge footage taken July 12, 2012.
Credit: YouTube | 4ub3n
Thick clouds and gray skies blocked New Yorkers' view of "Manhattanhenge" this evening, a phenomenon that, on clear evenings, turns Manhattan's bustling streets into a Stonehenge-type sundial.
The spectacle occurs when the sun hits the horizon precisely in line with Manhattan's rectangular grid of streets, illuminating both the north and south sides of the cross streets. The sunset show happens four times a year, on two sets of two consecutive days, typically in May and July.
This evening's clouded-over Manhattanhenge was the fourth and last of the year; the sun was similarly aligned with the city's streets on May 28, May 29 and yesterday (July 12). [See Photos of Amazing Sunsets & Sunrises]
If conditions had been clear, the climax of the Manhattanhenge effect would have been visible at the precise time of sunset, at 8:24 p.m. EDT. At that point, half of the sun would have appeared on the horizon, and the other half would have appeared to dip below.
Friday's Manhattanhenge sunset was also largely washed out by rain and dark clouds, but some New Yorkers were still able to catch a glimpse of the Big Apple's street corridors bathed in stunning orangey-pink light, as the sun descended in the sky.
John Woodford witnessed the sunset show yesterday from the intersection of 42nd Street and Second Avenue. "A large crowd exuberantly emptied into the middle of the intersection from sidewalks and taxis for a better view," Woodford told LiveScience in an email.
The nickname Manhattanhenge is derived from Stonehenge, a prehistoric monument that can be found north of the modern-day city of Salisbury, England. Once a year, the sunrise is perfectly aligned with the stone columns that make up this horseshoe-shaped megalith, which archaeologists believe was built around 2500 B.C.
Still, New York City is not the only place to experience these types of solstices. Other cities with straight east-west grid-patterned streets enjoy these dazzling sunsets as well, including Chicago and Baltimore in the United States, and Toronto in Canada.
Editor's note: If you snapped a photo of Manhattanhenge this weekend and you'd like to share it for a possible story or image gallery on LiveScience.com, please send images and comments, including equipment used, to Denise Chow at firstname.lastname@example.org.