13 October 2016 | Zodiacal Light

Zodiacal Light Yuri Beletsky

Credit: Yuri Beletsky | Click image to enlarge

Image Data

  • Location: Rano Kau, Easter Island
  • Date taken: August 2015
  • Camera: Canon EOS 6D
  • Optics: Nikkor 14-24
  • Exposure time: Panoramic 6 x 25s @ ISO 1600

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This stunning image of the Zodiacal Light and the Milky Way galaxy was made by Yuri Beletsky right after sunset in the middle of a crater of an extinct volcano on Easter Island. Make sure you check out Yuri’s Facebook page for lots more spectacular images.

The zodiacal light – or false dusk – is an eerie light extending up from the western horizon in late winter or early spring. You might also see it in the east before dawn begins to light the sky, in late summer or early autumn, in which case it’s called the false dawn.

People used to think zodiacal light originated somehow from phenomena in Earth’s upper atmosphere, but today we understand it as sunlight reflecting off dust grains that circle the sun in the inner solar system. These grains are thought to be left over from the process that created our Earth and the other planets of our solar system 4.5 billion years ago.

These dust grains in space spread out from the sun in the same flat disc of space inhabited by Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars and the other planets in our sun’s family. This flat space around the sun – the plane of our solar system – translates on our sky to a narrow pathway called the ecliptic. This is the same pathway traveled by the sun and moon as they journey across our sky.

The pathway of the sun and moon was called the Zodiac or Pathway of Animals by our ancestors in honor of the constellations seen beyond it. The word zodiacal stems from the word Zodiac.

Look for the zodiacal light in the west after sunset in late winter and early spring, around the time of the spring equinox. Look for it in the east before sunrise in late summer and early autumn, around the time of the autumn equinox. The darker your sky, the better your chances of seeing it. Your best bet is to pick a night when the moon is out of the sky, although it’s definitely possible, and very lovely, to see a slim crescent moon in the midst of this strange milky pyramid of light.

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