Astronomy Picture of the Day

Discover the cosmos! Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.

2001 September 12
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Zodiacal Light and the False Dawn
Credit: The CONCAM Project, NSF

Explanation: An unusual triangle of light will be particularly bright near the eastern horizon before sunrise during the next two months for observers in Earth's northern hemisphere. Once considered a false dawn, this triangle of light is actually Zodiacal Light, light reflected from interplanetary dust particles. The triangle is clearly visible on the left of the above frame taken from Mauna Kea in Hawaii on August 30 by one of the developing global network of fisheye nighttime web cameras called CONCAMs. Zodiacal dust orbits the Sun predominantly in the same plane as the planets: the ecliptic. Indeed, the triangle points to bright spots Jupiter and Saturn, with Saturn nearer the center. 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.

Tomorrow's picture: Quadrillion-volt Pulsar

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Authors & editors: Robert Nemiroff (MTU) & Jerry Bonnell (USRA)
NASA Technical Rep.: Jay Norris. Specific rights apply.
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