NEW YORK (Reuters) - Thousands of camera-toting tourists, commuters and residents will catch a glimpse of the setting sun framed perfectly in New York's east-west street grid on Friday evening, when an annual phenomenon known as "Manhattanhenge" captivates the city.
The precise alignment of the glowing sun with Manhattan's east-west thoroughfares occurs on Friday and Saturday at 8:12 p.m. (0012 GMT), according to Neil deGrasse Tyson, director of the American Museum of Natural History's Hayden Planetarium.
Manhattanhenge, a term coined by the astrophysicist, creates "a radiant glow of light across Manhattan's brick and steel canyons, simultaneously illuminating both the north and south sides of every cross street of the borough's grid," he writes on the museum's website.
Although Manhattan's grid was laid out decades ago, no one seems to have noticed and celebrated Manhattanhenge before Tyson. Its popularity has been building steadily, and now draws big crowds drinking in the beauty and snapping pictures of the spectacular display of color with their smartphones.
Manhattanhenge is best viewed while standing in the middle of the street. The wide vistas afforded by the likes of 14th, 23rd and 42nd streets make them popular vantage points.
Tyson traces his initial observation of the phenomenon to a scholarship he won as a 15-year-old to study in Britain, home of Stonehenge and other prehistoric monuments.
Stonehenge, a ring of stones erected by centuries ago in Wiltshire, England, draws crowds at the summer solstice, the one day of the year when it perfectly aligns with the rising sun.
"I had this kind of early baptism thinking about stones erected vertically, somehow communicating to the cosmos," Tyson recalled in an online video of an interview with Fast Company.
Back in New York, he began to look for "a spot where the sunrise and sunset points align with the tops of buildings and create a kind of urban Stonehenge by doing so."
Tyson said the sunset point changes slightly throughout the year, contrary to popular belief. And he identified those days when the sunset aligns with Manhattan's street grid.
He published his findings, but it was his awe-inspiring photographs - and the catchy name he coined - that captured the public's imagination.
If you miss the beauty this weekend - it was cloudy in Manhattan about two hours before sunset - there are two other chances to catch it before next year: Sunday, July 12, at 8:20 p.m or Monday, July 13, at 8:21 p.m.
Editing by Frank McGurty and Christian Plumb