New Yorkers take a shine to 'Manhattanhenge'

Any visitor to New York will know that it doesn't usually take much for the traffic in Manhattan to grind to a halt. But on Wednesday night at around 8.25pm local time, it was an extraordinary solar phenomenon that caused the city centre to turn to gridlock.

As surprised tourists halted the city's cabs to stand in the street to get a better look, keen amateur photographers snapped at the rare form of sunset New Yorkers call "Manhattanhenge", before it disappeared in less than 20 minutes.

Twice a year, the sun appears to set perfectly between skyscraper corridors, cutting straight through the city in the same way that sunlight shines through the huge boulders of Wiltshire's Stonehenge on the summer solstice. This time it was the turn of 34th Street, near that infamous New York landmark the Empire State Building, much to the observers' delight.

The nickname "Manhattanhenge" was created by astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, of the American Museum of Natural History, who officially discovered the phenomenon in 1996.

Chicago, Toronto and Montreal also boast similar "henge" phenomena, thanks to their long, straight streets and towering skyscrapers.