Weekend Stargazer: September 22 – 24

Zodiacal light Sept 23
The faint cone of light known as the zodiacal light extends from the east horizon, upwards along the ecliptic. The brightness of the phenomenon is exaggerated in this illustration.

The weekend is free from moonlight, which makes it a fine one for observing targets that require dark-sky conditions. And if you don’t mind rising early, this is one of the best times of year for viewing the elusive zodiacal light.

The pale glow of the zodiacal light arises from sunlight scattered by dust particles residing within the inner solar system. Look for an amorphous, cone-shaped luminance in the east before morning twilight begins. Usually, the zodiacal light is only about as bright as the winter Milky Way, which is why you’ll need a dark, clear sky to detect it.

You might find the zodiacal light easier to capture with a camera than your eyes. To try your hand at photographing the phenomenon, use a wide-angle lens (the widest you have), aim towards the east, and experiment until you find a combination of aperture, ISO, and exposure time that yields the best results. For the most natural colours, set your camera’s white-balance to “daylight.”

To read about more events, be sure to check out my regular This Week’s Sky column at SkyNews.ca.