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Zodiacal Light Visible in April

by Louise Good

zodiacal light 95 minutes before sunrise

Zodiacal light 95 minutes before sunrise on Mauna Kea. Photo by Miloslav Druckmüller. © 2011 Miloslav Druckmüller, Shadia Habbal.

On a clear night in April, if you go to a very dark place, you may be able to see the zodiacal light, a faint glow produced by sunlight reflected off of tiny dust particles in the ecliptic, the plane of Earth’s orbit projected onto the celestial sphere. To find the zodiacal light, look for Jupiter in the western sky after sunset. A cone of light will rise from the western horizon about 80 to 120 minutes after sunset.

If you stay up late enough and the sky is very dark and very clear, you may also be able to see the gegenschein (German for “counterglow”), a faint oval glow about 10 degrees across that appears in the midnight sky opposite the position of the Sun. It too is the result of sunlight reflecting off of dust particles.

Miloslav Druckmüller took this picture on Mauna Kea in April 2011. Click on it to see a larger version, and go to his website for more photos.