Cosmic dust may be the last thing skywatchers expect to see in the night sky with their own eyes, but this week is a good time to spot some of it known as zodiacal light for observers in the northern.
The zodiacal light is a faint glow caused by millions of tiny particles along the plane of ecliptic, the path followed by the sun, moon, and planets across our sky.
The zodiacal light has long been considered one of the rarest sights to see in the night sky, but in recent years seems to have been getting brighter, so that now it often outshines the Milky Way.
Look for it in the western sky just after the sky becomes completely dark, around 9:15 p.m. local time at this time of year.
This zodiacal light graphic shows where to look for the phenomenon since it is important to distinguish between the Milky Way and the zodiacal light.
The Milky Way will be crossing the sky horizontally about half way between horizon and zenith (blue line). The zodiacal light will appear as a cone-shaped glow rising upward diagonally from the western horizon, in the direction of Taurus, to the right of Orion (green line).
You will need to observe from a truly dark location, far away from the light pollution of cities or towns. It must also be a moonless night, which is one reason why this week's viewing chances are so good.
Another reason is that, at this time of year, the ecliptic is almost vertical after sunset, so that the maximum amount of the zodiacal light is exposed ? the zodiacal light is brightest closest to the sun.
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This article was provided to SPACE.com by Starry Night Education, the leader in space science curriculum solutions.