Fall’s False Dawn

Zodiacal Light
A glow called the zodiacal light can be seen in the sky before sunrise for two weeks beginning in late September. It’s formed by sunlight scattered off of dust near the plane of Earth’s orbit. Credit: Yuri Beletsky/ESO Paranal

A beautiful, triangle-shaped glow of cosmic light appears in the eastern sky before sunrise for two weeks, from late September through mid-October for those of you who live in mid-northern latitudes (e.g., most of the US, southern Europe, Japan, northern China).  Called the “zodiacal light” (as the triangle of light extends from the sun along the constellations of the zodiac), this wondrous apparition can be viewed only if you are in a dark location, far away from bright, city lights.  The zodiacal light will appear slightly dimmer than the Milky Way, and will rise up through the zodiacal constellations Leo, Cancer and Gemini.

Zodiacal Dust Cloud

Zodiacal light is caused by the reflection of sunlight off of dust particles in the plane of the solar system. It’s viewable during the spring and summer of each year. Quoting NASA, “Zodiacal light is so bright this time of year because the dust band is oriented nearly vertical at sunrise, so that the thick air near the horizon does not block out relatively bright reflecting dust. Zodiacal light is also bright for people in Earth’s northern hemisphere in March and April just after sunset.”

Did you know you can use the Moon to find constellations in the night sky? Follow us on Twitter where we post information each day about what constellation (area of the night sky) the Moon is in that evening.

Name A Star Live offers some really good tools to learn about the night sky and find your star’s constellation. Visit our website to learn about our Virtual Planetarium software, planisphere constellation finder, and First Light Astronomy Kit!

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