October 25, 2014

AstroEvent: Can You Spy the Zodiacal Light?

The Zodiacal Light as seen from Paranal. (Credit: ESO/Y. Beletsky).

This week’s astronomy challenge is seasonal for mid-latitude observers. Around the time of the equinox, the ecliptic meets the horizon at a favorable angle and a unique phenomenon may become apparent: the zodiacal light. This diffuse band of light can be briefly seen after sunset or before sunrise from a moderately dark location. Around the fall equinox, the angle of the ecliptic favors a morning sighting for northern hemisphere viewers and around the springtime, it favors the evenings. This band looks like a diffuse pyramid of light extending upwards from the horizon, and a time exposure take on a moonless night might just reveal it.   

But just what is this subtle band of light? What you’re seeing is the reflection of sunlight off of tiny dust grains scattered along the solar ecliptic. None other than Queen guitarist turned-astronomer Brian May has done a PhD thesis on the topic, and a related sister counter glow may be seen at the anti-sunward point known as the gegenschein. In equatorial latitudes, the zodiacal light may be seen year round; at higher latitudes it’s more of a seasonal affair. I’ve seen the zodiacal light rival the band of the Milky Way from a truly dark sky site. Good luck in spotting this elusive band, and if you can see it, consider yourself under fairly dark skies!   

The astro-word for this week is Zodiac. This is the band of constellations centered on the ecliptic, or the apparent path the sun takes around the celestial sphere in one year. The classical zodiac of the Greeks was divided into twelve houses corresponding in constellations each spanning 30 degrees of arc, but of course the modern constellations now only roughly correspond. In fact, solar system objects such as the Moon, Sun, and planets do not neatly stay within these borders, but routinely cross into other lesser known constellations such as Ophiuchus and Sextans, as noted in a recent “non-troversy!”  

Comments

  1. Feb. 22, 2011

    David Dickinson
    AstroGuyz

    Dear David:

    Some good news for you, I think.

    At Scripps Newspapers, we have spent a long time looking for the best astronomy and space blogs in the world, and your “AstroGuyz” blog is one of the most thorough, intelligent, wide-ranging and engaging blogs about popular astronomy that we have ever read, and we’ve reviewed thousands of blogs!

    But what really makes “AstroGuyz” stand out from the bazillion space and astronomy blogs we’ve read is a combination of several unique strengths working together:
    1. Your all-encompassing knowledge of space news and exploration
    2. The remarkable thoroughness of every single one of your posts
    3. Your engaging voice that keeps us reading and reading
    4. Your brilliant use of reoccurring themed posts, such as “Astro-Challenges”, “Astro-Events”, and “Life in the Astroblogosphere”;
    5. Your accessible language that makes it easy for anyone to read, understand, and enjoy your posts
    6. The authority with which you write about each topic
    7. And, finally, your sense of humor

    Here is what our primary researcher had to say in his initial assessment of your blog:

    “David is a delightful spirit writing creatively and excitedly about all things space, but focusing especially on astronomy and telescopes and discoveries. His categories are great: Do It Yourself Astronomy, Observational Astronomy, Real Science, Astro News, and Astro Culture. He writes regularly and very well. An undoubtedly wonderful blog.”

    Unlike most bloggers who take the easy way out and simply title their posts with a dry, boring event or subject name, you have a knack for writing compelling, clever, informative headlines that draw in your readers! With your headlines, the reader is entertained, informed, and invited in. Here are a few of our favorites:
    1. NASA Battles Bacteria in Space
    2. Satellite Spotting: A Quick How-to Guide
    3. In Defense of the Farmer’s Almanac
    4. Fermi: Einstein Still Rules
    5. The Smart Phones Strike Back: The STS-132 NASAtweetup!
    6. An Exoplanet Family Portrait
    7. Observing from the ‘Hood – Good Targets for Bright Skies
    8. Death by… Gamma-Ray Burst!

    You also “talk” to your readers in a smart, friendly, comfortable style. Reading your blog is like having a conversation with a real space pro who’s sharing his insider knowledge with us over a cup of coffee.

    Much like your headlines, your writing is informed, intriguing and conversational. Here are some of our favorite examples of you practicing your writing and reporting art:
    1. “The month of January sees the first month of the first year of the second decade of the 21st century. While we continue to review and bring you the best in astronomy, science, and science fiction, some would argue that we’re already living it… shouldn’t we have jet packs by now?”
    2. “The Astroword for this week is the Cassini Gap. Also sometimes known as the Cassini Division, this is the most prominent gap in Saturn’s rings and is easily visible with a small telescope.”
    3. “Never let the facts get in the way of a good story, guys… you keep us science news bloggers employed!”
    4. “Like so many other sub-fields, it’s amazing to think that astronomy in the ultra-violet realm barely even existed a decade ago! But from brief sounding rockets and shuttle payloads giving us a glimpse of this little understood end of the spectrum, dedicated platforms now conduct routine surveys and give us continual coverage of the UV band.”

    So, suffice to say that we really admire and enjoy “AstroGuyz” and would like to give you even more exposure around the country.

    My name is John Wilpers, the global blog coordinator for Scripps Newspapers. We operate daily and community newspapers in 14 markets in eight states, including Memphis and Knoxville (TN), Naples (FL), Abilene and Corpus Christi (TX), Treasure Coast (FL) and Ventura (CA). We also operate Scripps Howard News Service out of Washington, D.C.

    Our unique monthly visitors surpassed 10 million in December. In 2010, we had close to a billion page views company-wide and close to 100 million uniques.

    At Scripps, we take pride in providing the very best content to the communities we serve, both geographic communities and communities of shared interests.

    In 2008, we celebrated our 130th anniversary. And, even though we’re 130 years old, we see ourselves as the new Scripps because we’ve accepted the challenge of restructuring our operations to fulfill our readers’ needs in the digital age.

    To continue to provide our readers with the very best in information in the areas of their interests, we are expanding.

    One of the areas we are targeting is Space.

    Our local market geographic footprints overlap NASA’s geographic footprints, and we already have beat reporters with industry contacts, columnists with a focus on space, and award-winning journalists in Washington D.C. with strong Capitol connections.

    So we are creating what we believe will soon be the web’s #1 destination site for information about the future of space exploration. The site will be a triple-play of aggregation, curation, and creation of timely and relevant Space content, whether news or opinion driven.

    As part of that ambitious agenda, we are looking for the world’s best bloggers writing about Space. We believe you belong in this elite company.

    (Here’s some inside information: The title of the site is spacetimesnews.com and it just went live over the weekend, but in a soft, test-drive sort of way. You and the 19 other Space bloggers we are approaching are the first non-Scripps employees to see it! We are officially launching it on Thursday, the 24th, with a big press release and a lot of promotion to coincide with the Shuttle launch.)

    Your posts would be featured in the Blogs section which is promoted via a primary navigation tab at the top of the home page. And some of your posts would occasionally be featured on the homepage and in other ways as well.

    We will promote you on the site and host your content RSS feed. But from there, we will link back to your own blog for comments so you can build your community.

    We consider this trade of content for exposure to be a very good one for both parties. We offer you significant visibility on a national brand with 10 million monthly readers who will be exposed to your work — millions of potential readers you might not otherwise have been able to reach as you seek to expand the global awareness of yourself, your thoughts, and your “brand.”

    If you would like to partner with us, we will need your permission to republish your full-text feeds and point back to your blog for comments. We also need your permission to enhance your headlines but only if we think we can improve the wording for SEO purposes. Finally, we need your permission to repost your photos.

    We hope to hear that you are interested in this partnership. I can send you a Scripps “Blogger Partner FAQ” that might be able to answer any questions you have. If you still have questions, or if you’re not convinced but you’re at least curious, I would be happy to talk to you over the phone. Please reply to me at this e-mail address.

    The process is very simple: If you reply affirmatively to this e-mail, that will constitute your acceptance of the details as outlined in this invitation and in the brief FAQ I can send you.

    If you reply and join us by Wednesday (sorry for the tight deadline!), you will be on the site when it debuts Thursday and be able to benefit from what will probably be a very busy and exciting traffic day. If that deadline is too tight and you’d like to think about it or talk with me, that’s fine, too, and I look forward to discussing our vision with you.

    I look forward to hearing from you.

    Thank you!

    Sincerely,

    John

    John Wilpers
    Global Blog Coordinator
    Scripps Newspapers
    Jwilpers@scrippsweb.com
    617-688-0137

Trackbacks

  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by David Dickinson, Alexander Wolf. Alexander Wolf said: RT @Astroguyz: AstroEvent: Can You Spy the Zodiacal Light: http://bit.ly/i1RojH Springtime may be your chance to catch this elusive glow. [...]

  2. [...] the horizon. For southern hemisphere observers, September provides the best time to hunt for the zodiacal light after dusk. In March, the situation is reversed, with dusk being the best for northern hemisphere [...]

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