Science

Admire the “false dawn” of the zodiacal light in early autumn.

For the next few weeks, a streak of eerie pre-dawn light will put on a show for early risers.

The phenomenon, known as the zodiacal light, will be visible along the eastern horizon before dawn between the autumn equinox, which occurred on Thursday (September 22), and the next full moon on October 9.

The zodiacal light will be most visible in areas free from urban light pollution and will appear in the lower third of the sky near the twin stars Castor and Pollux in the constellation Gemini. If you are in the Northern Hemisphere, look for zodiacal light during the early wee hours of late August to early November. For the Southern Hemisphere, this phenomenon will be most noticeable in the evening hours around sunset, manifesting itself in the west.

Related: Night Sky September 2022: What You Can See Tonight [maps]

Zodiacal light, also known as “false dawn”, occurs when sunlight is scattered by interplanetary particles in the plane of the solar system, the same material that causes meteor showers. It will appear as a wide cone or wedge of faint light extending upward from the eastern horizon into the ecliptic, the path the sun appears to take in the sky. According to EarthSky.org, the zodiacal light will be comparable in brightness to the Milky Way and will even appear “milkier” or lighter. (will open in a new tab).

The zodiacal light is most visible on the equinoxes because it follows the movement of the sun across the sky. On the equinoxes, the sun is directly above the equator. This means that at this time, sunlight hits the horizon at its most extreme vertical angle, brightly illuminating interplanetary dust, which creates the “false dawn” phenomenon.

(Image credit: VW Pics/Getty Images)

If you want to photograph the zodiacal light, try using a slow shutter speed to make sure your camera can capture the glow. For the best shots of zodiacal light, check out our recommendations for the best cameras for astrophotography and the best lenses for astrophotography.

Editor’s Note: If you have a good photo of the zodiacal light and would like to share it with Space.com readers, please send your photos, comments, your name and location to spacephotos@.

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