Zodiacal Light from Mauna Kea

December 04, 2009


Photographer: David K. Lynch; Dave's Web Page
Summary Author
: David K. Lynch

When the solar system formed out of a cloud of interstellar dust and gas about 4.6 billion years ago, it left behind a lot of construction litter. Some of this litter can be observed with the naked eye at night. It’s called the zodiacal light and can be seen in the western sky after evening twilight and in the eastern sky before morning twilight. It appears as a diffuse band of light extended along the ecliptic, and it's often called the “false dawn” because it proceeds morning twilight. We can see it because it reflects sunlight. It's rather faint and is all but invisible if there's much moonlight. On a very dark night with a long exposure, the zodiacal light can be seen to stretch across the entire sky. It's brightest near the Sun as a result of forward scattering.
The zodiacal light is a cloud of interplanetary dust particles, each one of which is in orbit around the Sun. The particles are in the range from 1 – 100 micrometers and are composed of the same material asteroids and meteoroids are made of: chondritic material (olivine, pyroxene), carbonaceous compounds and bits of nickel-iron alloy. Photo taken at the Mauna Kea Observatory in Hawaii in March 1997.
Mauna Kea coordinates: N19.820664, W155.468067

Specific coordinates of Mauna Kea Telescopes