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Catch a Glimpse of the Zodiacal Light Show This Month

For some in the northern hemisphere, a celestial treat sometimes referred to as “false dusk” is lighting up the night

The zodiacal light. (PETER KOMKA/epa/Corbis)
smithsonian.com

Though it might not feel like it, spring is on its way. Need proof? Look towards the heavens.

The zodiacal light, a celestial event occurring in both the spring and autumn, will be visible to savvy stargazers in many parts of the Northern hemisphere this month. It appears, according to National Geographic, as “pyramid-shaped beam of light” that “can easily be mistaken for the lights of a far-off city.” It can look so bright that on this side of Earth it is sometimes called “false dusk” in the spring, when it appears shortly after sunset, and “false dawn” in autumn, when its light can be seen in the early morning.

Bruce McClure over at EarthSky says that the next week and a half will be the best time to catch the eerie glow, since a low-rising moon allows for the complete dark required to see the zodiacal light’s full glory. It will appear in the west, and those far away from light pollution and living farther south, in the “Northern Hemisphere’s temperate zone,” will be most likely to catch it around 80 to 120 minutes after the sun sets.

The zodiacal light is caused by the reflection of sunlight off of grains of dust in the inner solar system believed to be the remains of “the process that created our Earth and the other planets of our solar system 4.5 billion years ago," according to EarthSky:

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.

That pathway is called the Zodiac (of horoscope fame)—hence the name.

If the zodiacal light doesn’t reach you (and it is reportedly hard to see, especially as far north as the U.S.), there are other celestial phenomena you may be able to catch this month, according to National Geographic. Just after sunset on Wednesday, March 11, Venus, Mars, and Uranus will be viewable in the night sky, though a telescope is required to pick up the blue-green hue of Uranus. And for early birds, Saturn will appear as a yellow light to the upper right of the moon in the pre-dawn hours of March 12 and 13.

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