Mystery of the Zodiacal light

As the season for photographing the core of the Milky way for this season draws to an end, people living in in the temperate parts of the world (the mid-latitudes) are being treated to an amazing sight - the triangular glow of the Zodiacal Light (ZL).

The Space.com website provides the following explanation of the ZL:

We know now that while it is indeed reflected sunlight, it is being reflected not off our atmosphere, but rather off of a non-uniform distribution of interplanetary material; debris left over from the formation of our solar system. Millions, if not billions of particles – ranging in size from meter-sized mini-asteroids to micron-sized dust grains -- seem densest around the immediate vicinity of the sun, but extend outward, beyond the orbit of Mars and are spread out along the plane of the ecliptic (the path the sun follows throughout the year). Hence the reason for the name Zodiacal Light is because it is seen projected against theand are spread out along the plane of the ecliptic (the path the sun follows throughout the year). Hence the reason for the name Zodiacal Light is because it is seen projected against the zodiacal constellations.

In mid latitudes, the ecliptic is most perpendicular to the horizon around the equinoxes, late March and late September and this is when it is most easily observed. For more equatorial latitudes it can be seen around the year.

Here are a couple of shots taken from near my home in the Southern hemisphere at around 60-90 minutes after sunset as the Milky way core sets in the west.

Now is the time to go out and see this glorious sight for your self!

Ian

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