“You cannot look up at the night sky on the Planet Earth and not wonder what it’s like to be up there amongst the stars. And I always look up at the moon and see it as the single most romantic place within the cosmos” - Tom Hanks

Image Credit & Copyright: Yuri Beletsky (Carnegie Las Campanas Observatory, TWAN) 

“The brightest planet, Venus, beams at bottom. Jupiter, the second-brightest, shines to Venus’ upper left. Mars shines in between the two, though closer to Venus. That bright star on line with the morning planets is Regulus, the brightest star in the constellation Leo the Lion. And that star cluster to the upper left is the Beehive cluster (Messier 44) in the constellation Cancer the Crab.” -EarthSky

Location: Carnegie Las Campanas observatory, Atacama desert, Chile
Photo: Yuri Beletsky

Planet Earth’s horizon stretches across this recent Solar System group portrait, seen from the southern hemisphere’s Las Campanas Observatory. Taken before dawn it traces the ecliptic with a line-up familiar to November’s early morning risers. Toward the east are bright planets Venus, Mars, and Jupiter as well as Regulus, alpha star of the constellation Leo. Of course the planets are immersed in the faint glow of zodiacal light, visible from the dark site rising at an angle from the horizon. Sometimes known as the false dawn, it’s no accident the zodiacal light and planets both lie along the ecliptic. Formed in the flattened protoplanetary disk, the Solar System’s planet’s all orbit near the ecliptic plane, while dust near the plane scatters sunlight, the source of the faint zodiacal glow.

Image Credit & Copyright: Yuri Beletsky (Carnegie Las Campanas Observatory, TWAN)

False Dawns and Night Ghosts

Have you ever gone outside far into the country only to notice far off on the horizon a huge glow was rising into the sky?

It may seem like some new huge star was about to rise, a rival to the Sun - come to take our night away. It might seem like some strange celestial ghost, basking in the darkness, there for sure though you can’t quite find it’s edge.

Often mistaken for something else, this pillar of ethereal light is called zodiacal light.

There are billions of particles (such as dust) left over from the formation of the solar system. This homeless matter reflects light so that it appears as a pillar, supporting heaven itself.

(Image credit: ESO/Y. Beletsky)

Hide the moon, the stars appear

I don’t know what last week’s eclipse (see was like for you, but I had a view of Luna not unlike this one from my balcony in rural France, albeit with a different backdrop, since this amazing shot was taken at the Las Campanas observatory in Chile’s Atacama desert. The two domes in the foreground house the twin Magellan telescopes, each boasting a 6.5 metre mirror. The red colour comes from reflected light of sunsets and rises, which have the blue wavelengths absorbed by their passage through the atmosphere and its contents of dust. The dim red green glow is the phenomenon known as airglow (see for an explanation).


Image credit: Yuri Beletsky via EPOD

Zodiacal Light Seen from Paranal

Zodiacal light is a faint, roughly triangular, diffuse white glow seen in the night sky that appears to extend up from the vicinity of the Sun along the ecliptic or zodiac.It is best seen just after sunset in spring, and just before sunrise in autumn, when the zodiac is at a steep angle to the horizon. Caused by sunlight scattered by space dust in the zodiacal cloud, it is so faint that either moonlight or light pollution renders it invisible. ~ Wikipedia

Image credit: ESO/Y.Beletsky