False Dawn

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Zodiacal lights or false dawn, are a rare optical phenomenon that occurs around sunset and sunrise, usually during early spring and late fall.

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They occur in the form of a hazy light extending in the skies from the horizon, usually in the shape of a triangle or a pyramid. Zodiacal lights occur when sunlight reflects off tiny space particles. These particles or cosmic dust are considered to be fragments of Jupiter family comets.

Examples of “false dawn”

Jupiter family comets are comets that are found revolving around the Sun in a path between the Sun and Jupiter. These comets have a short revolution period, generally less than years, and have their aphelia — the point where they are farthest away from the Sun — close to Jupiter. While cosmic dust can be found throughout our Solar system, zodiacal lights have been mostly observed in the zone around the ecliptic plane. Zodiacal lights are rare and can be observed around the spring and the fall equinox at higher latitudes, and throughout the year in tropical regions. Those in the Northern Hemisphere are the most likely to see these lights after sunset during spring in the western sky, and in the eastern sky before sunrise in the fall months.

People in the Southern Hemisphere, on the other hand, have the best chance of viewing these lights in the eastern sky after sunset during their fall months, and in the western sky before sunrise during spring. Bright lights, artificial or natural, and air pollution are the biggest enemies of zodiacal lights watchers.

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Because these lights are very faint, any ambient light, even from the Moon, can hide them. The best time to observe these lights, therefore, is two weeks after a full Moon. Moon phases in your city. Zodiacal lights have a special significance for practitioners of the Islamic faith. Since zodiacal lights are best observed right before sunrise, they can sometimes be mistaken as the beginnings of dawn.

Watch for false dawn or dusk

This has implications for devout Muslims who have to pray at specific timings. That faint ghostly glow was once thought to be solely an atmospheric phenomenon: perhaps reflected sunlight shining on the very high atmosphere of Earth. We now know, however, that while it is indeed reflected sunlight, it is being reflected not off our atmosphere, but rather off of a non-uniform distribution of interplanetary material; debris left over from the formation of the planets.


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These countless millions of particles — ranging in size from meter-sized mini-asteroids to micron-sized dust grains — seem densest around the immediate vicinity of the Sun, but extend outward, beyond the orbit of Mars and are spread out along the plane of the ecliptic the path the Sun follows throughout the year. The best time to see the Zodiacal Light is when the ecliptic appears most nearly vertical to the horizon.

For those in the Northern Hemisphere, the best morning view in the eastern sky comes from late September into the early part of November; and in the western evening sky after sunset from early February to late March. For northerners at this particular time of the year, it is just before morning twilight begins about 90 minutes before sunrise , that the Zodiacal Light should appear at its brightest and most conspicuous.

To the discerning eye, its diffuse shape resembles almost a tilted cone, wedge or slanted pyramid. At its best, the display can approach or even equal the Milky Way in brightness, but yet it is so faint that even a small amount of atmospheric haze can obscure it.

On exceptionally clear nights, the tapering cone might be seen to stretch more than halfway up into the sky.

This morning I was admiring the moon and venus. It was so bright and eye catching. After standing in the yard for a lil while something caught my eye. At the time I had no idea what I was looking at,so I googled a description and Zodiacal light is what it brought me to.

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Until today I have never heard of the zodiacal light but I am very glad I witnessed it, and I hope to see it again over the next 2 wks. False light was the light that comes early, enough to start hiding stars, barely get around, but not really very bright. First light can cast shadows, but no sun over the horizon yet.

And sunrise, when the orb itself peeks over the horizon. Thank you for the great article. Fascinating to learn this. I noticed this when I visited my Aunt an Unk in Tucson as they had lived there for many years they knew what I was talking about and explained it to me To me it looked like it never got dark. Name required. E-mail required. Note: Comments that further the discussion of the above content are likely to be approved.


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