What is Bostonhenge?
Bostonhenge (or Boston Henge) is an event in the city of Boston where the sun aligns perfectly between the city’s streets during a sunrise or sunset. This happens because the exact locations of sunrise and sunset change throughout the year. Due to the inclination of the Earth’s rotation axis, the sunset moves towards the north in summer in the northern hemisphere, and towards the south in winter.
This change in exact position each day is what makes Bostonhenge a rare occurrence, giving us the chance to marvel at the perfect frame that our buildings and streets provide to the sun at the horizon on certain days of the year.
A chance to find a connection between manmade structures and celestial events. Between us and nature!
Etymology | Why is it called the Bostonhenge?
Bostonhenge – a misnomer?
“Bostonhenge”, as we’ll see in a moment, is a misnomer. However, language is simply a tool to communicate ideas with others. So, who cares if it’s a misnomer as long as others understand what we’re talking about, right?
To understand the how we arrived at “Bostonhenge”, let’s look at a little bit of history and some interesting facts from another part of the world!
Have you heard of Stonehenge? The archeological enigma and British cultural icon, located about 140 kilometers west of London – in Salisbury, UK?
There are a lot of theories surrounding the mysterious placement of this structure and its purpose.
Did the Neolithic people build it as a way of keeping track of time? If so, how did they do it?
Was it the work of an advanced alien species to mark their spacecraft landing area?
Or did a wizard move these heavy stones here all the way from Wales and have giants assemble them?
While there are many things we may never find out about the Stonehenge, we do know one thing for a fact. Each year, on summer solstice, the Stonehenge is perfectly aligned to have the sun shine its first rays into the heart of the Stonehenge!
How we arrived at “Bostonhenge”
The name Stonehenge was probably derived from stan-hengen (Saxon, meaning “stone hanging”). Archaeologists also define “henges” as earthworks consisting of a circular banked enclosure with an internal ditch.
As we can see, “henge” does not directly refer to the phenomenon of the sun’s alignment. However, since this phenomenon is so closely associated with the Stonehenge, Manhattan adopted the term “Manhattanhenge” (coined by astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson) to describe the event of the sun’s alignment with their East-West facing streets.
And Boston has adopted its own version of the term, giving us Bostonhenge!
Making Bostonhenge popular
How did I hear about Bostonhenge?
One October evening in 2022, Jack Daryl walked down Arlington St after work to meet his wife for dinner. He serendipitously noticed the sunset line up with Stuart Street, and came back the following evening to photograph it.
Upon finding that the sun would set in the same position again in February, Jack used his Instagram account to spread the word. And that’s how I came to hear about it.
Part of the beginning
There have been a handful of documentations of this event from over a decade ago. However, 2023 was the first time that Bostonhenge created a buzz! Thanks to Jack’s posts, many local enthusiasts stepped out to witness Bostonhenge through the second week of February 2023.
Given that the Bostonhenge phenomenon was still relatively less-known in February 2023, our group had a lot of fun with curious passers-by on the street.
- A photographer walking by with his lovely vintage film-camera joined us upon learning why we’d gathered
- One driver with a fantastic sense of humor stopped his car in front of us to announce “We’re here!!”
- One lady’s boss had tasked her with finding out what was happening across the street from their office
- A man walking across the street demanded, “Who’s coming?”
- Another curious lady driving past the intersection paused to look at what our cameras were pointed at, blocking the sun with her car for a few crucial seconds…visibly (and audibly) making the group impatient!
Will Bostonhenge continue to rise in popularity just as Manhattanhenge did? Only time will tell!
Nonetheless, it felt incredible to be a part of one of the first groups to witness this magical phenomenon together!
When and where you can witness Bostonhenge
Here are a few options to witness the Bostonhenge from various parts of the city.
- Back Bay sunset – intersection of Stuart St and Arlington St – February 8-12, November 1-5
- MITHenge – sun aligning with MIT’s infinite corridor – well documented on this page
- Sunrise along Vassar St, Cambridge – between June 14 – June 21 (solstice)
- HanHenge – sunrise across the Charles and behind the John Hancock Tower – around January 15
Note: at the time of writing this, I have personally witnessed only the first one.
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