Twice a year the east-west orientation of New York City streets creates a stunning astronomical display known as Manhattanhenge, when the setting sun dips down into the Hudson river in perfect alignment with Manhattan's grid system. It usually happens once near the beginning of May and again in the middle of July. Tonight, July 12th, 2011 at around 8:20PM, New Yorker's will get to enjoy the serene majesty of this biannual event--a proud moment wherein the Center of the Universe stops to appreciate the Center of the Solar System.
This year's Manhattanhenge should prove to be particularly spectacular, as the Sun's 11 year Solar Cycle is now officially waxing after more than a decade of being on the wane. Solar activity--sunspots, flares, magnetism and irradiance--varies sharply within these periods and in between the years of 2006 and 2008 there was a near-total absence of sunspots which actually led to a temporary stabilization in the alarming trend of global warming. But before climate change debunkers (known colloquially as 'Rednecks') even had a chance to say 'hoax,' scientists recently began to observe a dramatic increase in solar activity as evidenced by this insane coronal mass ejection, witnessed on June 7th, 2011:
Aside from producing eye-candy to people on massive amounts of LSD, increased solar activity can actually produce a more vibrant sunset. There are negative side effects, however: as our reinvigorated celestial center awakens from its short-lived slumber, more electromagnetic radiation will begin spewing our way, possibly leading to power outages, satellite interruption and sharp temperature increases across the globe. Hell, you might not even be able to Tweet--which is profoundly paradoxical because if an event's not Twitter-trending, how will you have proof that it's actually happening? Even Fox News--a bastion for those who so bravely refuse to believe in the 'myth' of science--is worried, pointing out that a major solar storm in 1859 caused telegraph lines to short out, even spontaneously bursting into flames in certain instances. Imagine the havoc that could be wreaked in the age of the internet?
Because scientists know relatively little about the Sun's atmosphere, the best we can do now is speculate. As for tonight, though, we spectate--pausing in reverence to an unfettered view of the majestic orange orb of plasma that makes all planetary life possible...and which could end it all in an instant. Might I suggest an appropriate soundtrack? Enjoy!