At sunset, this week, look to the west along any of downtown Toronto's east-west aligned streets, and have your camera ready to capture spectacular images of Torontohenge.
Years ago, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson coined the term Manhattanhenge to describe how, on certain days of the year, the setting Sun will line up perfectly along certain streets in downtown Manhattan.
Framed by the New York City borough's tall skyscrapers, the view of the Sun on these days produces an effect similar to what is seen at the ancient monument Stonehenge, at the summer and winter solstices.
Manhattanhenge along 42nd St, June 3, 2008. Credit: Sevtibidou/Wikimedia Commons
However, Manhattan is only one of many places that see this kind of phenomenon.
Toronto also experiences it, and — appropriately — this is called Torontohenge.
Look for the setting Sun to line up with Toronto's downtown east-west streets for at least the first half of the work week from October 23-25.
There are three other times of year to view Torontohenge: at sunset on February 15 and at sunrise on April 19 and August 23.
Torontohenge from College St in downtown Toronto, captured on February 22, 2018. Credit: NextThingIKnow/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0)
According to Ralph Bouwmeester, a Sun/shadow modeller who runs the SunPosition blog, great photos can be taken in the days before a sunset Torontohenge, and in the days after a sunrise Torontohenge.
The best downtown locations to view Torontohenge are along Wellington Street W, King Street W, Adelaide Street W, and Richmond Street W. On King Street W, outside of Roy Thomson Hall, is especially good. Farther north, Bloor Street W, near the intersection with Yonge Street, is also a great spot.
This map shows the best streets for viewing Torontohenge from downtown Toronto. Credits: Google/Scott Sutherland
Each of these roads is straight, with tall buildings lining both sides, and they have a relatively unobstructed view of the western horizon. Any similar street will produce the desired effect, though.
Sunset occurs at:
6:21 p.m. on Monday, October 23,
6:20 p.m. on Tuesday, October 24, and
6:18 p.m. on Wednesday, October 25.
To get the whole experience, plan to set up at your desired viewing spot at least half an hour before sunset. That way, you can watch as the Sun slowly comes into alignment between the buildings.
Clear or cloudy skies?
Based on the weather forecast, Toronto should have reasonably clear skies at sunset for tonight (Monday) and on Tuesday.
On Wednesday, though, we may have cloudy skies all day, with rain showers around sunset.
Check back for updates!
What's going on here?
Throughout the year, our planet's 23.4° axial tilt causes the Sun to change position in the sky.
Day to day, the Sun's path across the sky climbs higher from winter solstice through summer solstice. Then, for the remainder of the year, its path gets lower in the sky, day by day. This change in the angle of the Sun is what produces the four seasons.
This 'solargraph' image captures the Sun's path across the sky, day after day, between the dates of February 28 and June 20, 2016. Credit: Bret Culp (Used with permission)
So, with each sunrise and sunset we experience, we see the Sun at a different point along the horizon than it was the day before.
Noticing this trend, ancient peoples set up monuments so the Sun would line up perfectly with them on particular days of the year. This was most often for the summer solstice, when the Sun reaches its highest point in the sky, and winter solstice when the Sun is at its lowest point. More sophisticated monuments also observed the spring and fall equinoxes.
Credit: English Heritage
However, cities such as Toronto and New York weren't built with astronomical alignments in mind. The local geography dictated how they developed, such as the shape of the Lake Ontario lakeshore or the shape and orientation of the island of Manhattan.
However, coincidentally, there are specific dates when the Sun does line up along their streets. While this would have simply been a nuisance for drivers to start, the effect became more 'henge-like' as taller and taller buildings began to line these streets.
More than just Manhattan and Toronto
Other Canadian cities experience 'henges, as well.
For example, although there are fewer tall buildings there, Halifaxhenge happens on the same dates as Torontohenge.
Montrealhenge occurs at sunset on Summer Solstice and sunrise at Winter Solstice, as the Sun lines up with streets running northwest-southeast, such as Robert Bourassa Boulevard and Peel St.
For Calgaryhenge, the Sun aligns between the buildings on 4th, 5th, or 6th Avenues at sunrise around March 14 and sunset around March 21. It occurs again at sundown on September 21 and sunrise on September 28.
Edmontonhenge is best seen (both sunset and sunrise) right around the March and September equinoxes.
A call for caution!
With the setting sun shining straight down the streets of Toronto, the glare will undoubtedly make things difficult for those behind the wheel of their evening commute.
Whether the Sun is directly in your eyes as you drive west or in your rearview mirror as you go east, please take extra care during the afternoon commutes for this week. That way, everyone can arrive at their destinations safe and sound.
If you are in downtown Toronto to observe Torontohenge for yourself, be very careful when viewing. While there may be a temptation to step out into the middle of the street to capture the perfect view, please be aware that the glare of the setting Sun may make it difficult for drivers to see you.
Share the event!
If you do manage to catch this event and capture some photos, be sure to upload them to our UGC gallery. That way, they will be featured on our website, and everyone can have a chance to see them!
(Thumbnail courtesy Sevtibidou/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0))