False Dawn: The Zodiacal Pyramid of Light


Photo: Kwon O. Chul, TWAN

The gorgeous pyramid of light above is called the zodiacal light. Andrew Fazekas of the National Geographic News explains the elusive celestial phenomenon:

Unlike the stars and gases of the Milky Way, which stretch away from Earth for light-years, the source of the zodiacal light lies between the inner planets of our solar system.

There, billions of dust grains orbit the sun in a flattened disk spread out along the ecliptic—the plane of the solar system, which also contains the paths of the 12 constellations of the zodiac.

The dusty disk, also called the zodiacal cloud, radiates from near the sun out beyond the orbit of Mars, toward Jupiter. The dust reflects and scatters sunlight in such a way that it creates a visible glow for observers on Earth.

"Because the dust in the solar system is concentrated along the ecliptic plane, the zodiacal light is likewise concentrated," Gyuk said.

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