GREENVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) – The zodiacal light, also known as false dusk, is a light extending up from the western horizon after dusk in the late winter or early spring (late February through early May). Often times, it is mistaken for the light of a nearby town. The pathway of the sun and moon was called the Zodiac by our ancestors in honor of the constellations seen beyond it. So, the word zodiacal comes from the word Zodiac.
What causes the zodiacal light? It is believed that it is caused by sunlight reflecting off dust grains that circle the sun in the inner solar system. Sunlight shines on these grains of dust to create the light we see.
The Zodiacal light is best seen across the southern U.S. (including the East). Of course as with any stargazing, you’ll need a dark sky location, somewhere away from city and town lights. It also helps to be as close to the new moon as possible, which just so happens to be tomorrow, Sunday, February 26, 2017. The Zodiacal light can be seen for up to an hour after dusk.
You can also see the zodiacal light as a false dusk in the late summer and early fall (late August through early November) in the eastern sky before dawn.
Pierce Legeion is a meteorologist and digital journalist for WNCT 9 First Alert Weather.
Zodiacal light image courtesy: ESO/beletsky