Snow isn’t the only thing about to take over the sky. This week (March 13) and next, stargazers in the northern hemisphere will be able to witness the glow of zodiacal lights.
What does that mean, exactly? The term refers to a phenomenon in which a hazy triangle of whitish light appears in the sky above the western horizon after dusk (best seen in the spring) or above the eastern horizon before dawn (best seen in the fall). It’s also sometimes referred to as false dusk or false dawn, according to Jonathan Kemp, a telescope specialist at Middlebury College Observatory.
“Although not always well understood, the cause of the zodiacal light is believed to be related to the scattering of light from dust particles within the plane of our solar system, where this interplanetary dust is found in higher concentrations,” he said. “We call this phenomenon zodiacal light because the constellations of the zodiac are seen along this plane of the solar system in our night sky.”
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In big cities, the lights are typically very hard to see.
“Unfortunately, it is [often] completely invisible to city dwellers due to light pollution,” said Jason Kendall, who is on the board of the Amateur Astronomers Association of New York. "I've only ever actually seen it twice."
But if there was ever a time to see it, it's this week, when the moon is not yet up in the early evening sky. Plan on looking for the glow at least 90 minutes after sunset, and for the next hour after that when the sky is completely dark.