Seeing the sun in the night sky

A Trouvelot lithograph depicting zodiacal light

Image via Wikipedia

Did you know you can see the glow of the sun at night?

It’s called the zodiacal light.

The light appears as a faint whitish glow in the night sky. As the sun’s rays travel through space, they are scattered and reflected by interplanetary dust back to Earth. Not a lot of dust is needed. Astronomers estimate only one dust particle for every 8 km.

In mid-latitudes, you can see it in the western sky now after sunset during twilight. In autumn, it can be seen in eastern skies just before dawn during twilight.

The Islamic prophet Muhammad called zodiacal light, the false dawn in regards to prayers.

It was first observed by astronomer Giovonni Domenico Cassini back in 1683, and explained the following year by Nicolus Fatio de Duillier.

The sun’s glow can also be seen in a region of the night sky opposite the sun. This phenomenon is known as the gegenschein. It can be seen as a faint softly oval glow that was first discovered by French Jesuit astronomer Espirit Pezenas in 1730.

Dark skies, however, are needed to see the gegenschein and zodiacal light.  Both are faint, and the moonlight or light pollution can wash them out completely from the night sky.

So now you can see and enjoy the sun both night and day.

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About Mario Carr

Mario Carr has a Physics degree from McMaster University and hosts this blog. He is the director of public education for the Hamilton Amateur Astronomers and has helped to raise the profile of the group. He writes an astronomy column and appears on CHCH-TV to talk about the night sky. Mario is the founder of the Carr Marketing Group in Burlington, Ontario and can help with your marketing, communications, publicity and public relations needs. He can be reached at www.carrmarketinggroup.com or mariocarr@cogeco.ca.
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