The Zodiacal Light

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This is not really an atmospheric effect, it just looks like one! The zodiacal light, also called the "false dawn," is actually sunlight reflecting off particles of dust orbiting in the plane of the solar system, gradually spiraling into the sun. In the northern hemisphere, it is most easily seen before dawn in the fall, and after sunset in the spring.

This photo was taken with a wide angle lens, looking east-southeast 90 minutes before sunrise -- before morning twilight. Several other features are visible, and are labeled in the second version of the photo: The constellations of Virgo, Corvus, the tail of Leo the Lion, and Coma Berenices. The bright "star" at the tip of the zodiacal light cone (which is tilted along the ecliptic) is the planet Mars.

Date: November 17, 1998, 5:26am MST
Location: near Florence, Arizona
Camera: Olympus OM-1 35mm SLR on tracking mount
Film: Kodak Ektachrome P1600 slide
Lens: 24mm at f/2.8, 12 minutes
Scanner: Nikon Coolscan LS-10E

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Revised: December 14, 2006
Copyright © 2000 Joe Orman
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