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The Rare “Zodiacal Light”

Photographer Justin Ng captures a rare sight in a gorgeous time-lapse video taken over the volcanoes surrounding Mt. Bromo. Here’s the full video:

As the Milky Way comes into view, a diffuse, glowing triangle becomes apparent even though the sun is far below the horizon. In the photo below, by Ng, you’ll notice that the glowing triangle contains the planets Venus, Saturn, and Mercury:

This is sunlight, reflected from below the horizon, bouncing off of faint dust that lingers in our solar system’s planetary disk, the zodiacal plane itself. This so-called “zodiacal light" is the result of leftover debris from the formation of the planets, light so faint that even moonlight will obscure it.

This is what’s left from the birth of our home and its neighbors, glowing in the springtime night. Wow.

Photo taken in New Zealand, looking into the milky way with two fuzzy blobs on the left:  two Magellanic Clouds, irregular dwarf galaxies visible from the southern hemisphere, which are members of our Local Group and may be orbiting our Milky Way galaxy. From the BBC’s 2013 Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition.

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