Starwatch: don’t miss gossamer beauty of the zodiacal light

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Now is the best time of the year to see the zodiacal light in the evening sky from the northern hemisphere. It’s a subtle glow that takes some effort to notice, but is always worth your time because of its gossamer beauty.

The chart shows the view looking west from London on Monday at 2100 BST. From clear, dark skies, well away from streetlamps, the zodiacal light will appear as a wedge of faint light that climbs up into the sky from the western horizon, and passes into Taurus, the Bull. The glow is caused by sunlight scattering off dust particles in our solar system, and follows the path of the ecliptic, which is in effect the plane of the solar system.

For many years, it was thought that the dust came from the tails of comets and collisions between asteroids. But research from Nasa’s Juno spacecraft has found that the zodiacal dust streams share orbital similarities to Mars. This indicates that the dust may be coming from the red planet, or from its two moons, Phobos and Deimos. From the southern hemisphere, at this time of year, the zodiacal light climbs upwards from the eastern horizon before dawn.

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