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You can see the Zodiacal light this week! Here's what that is and where you can see it

Zodiacal light and the Milky Way
Posted at 4:10 PM, Sep 14, 2023

The next two nights are going to be chilly and mostly clear. There is also 0% illumination from the new Moon. This setup will give us a great opportunity to search for the zodiacal light! But what is the Zodiacal light?

The zodiacal light is also known as false dawn, and it is a triangular or cone-shaped pillar of faint light that stretches upward from the horizon. The zodiacal light is sunlight reflecting off of an interplanetary dust cloud. This dust fills the inner solar system out to the inner fringes of the main asteroid belt, just past Mars. Although long debated where the dust originates, it is thought there are several potential sources, including comets, the planet Mars, and asteroids.


Fall begins in less than two weeks, and it's easiest to observe the Zodiacal light on moonless nights around the time of the equinoxes in March and September. If you want to look, the next few days are your best window of time. Relatively dark skies give you the best chance to observe it, and the moon will be absent from predawn skies for the next several days since the new Moon occurs Thursday night and early Friday morning, so that will be our best chance to see the Zodiacal light. The moon will still only be 2% illuminated on Saturday, but clouds will increase ahead of our next rain chance on Sunday. Keep in mind that any other light pollution, for example, street lights, will make it very difficult to see false dawn. You will also want to head outside about two hours before sunrise (the sun rises around 7 a.m.) and look to the east before morning twilight begins. Dress warm, too! It will be chilly on both nights!


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