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Starstruck

This Week's Night Sky: The Elusive Glow of Zodiacal Lights

Sky-watchers in the far southern reaches of the planet may glimpse a partial solar eclipse.

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Zodiacal light is a faint, triangular glow seen best in dark skies free of light pollution.


Lunar alignment.  At dawn on Tuesday, September 8, look for the thin crescent moon to be wedged between some of the brightest stars in the entire night sky. To the moon’s upper left will be the Gemini twins Castor and Pollux. And on its lower right will be the lead star in the constellation Canis Minor, Procyon, a binary system that sits just 11.4 light-years from Earth.

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Before dawn on Tuesday, look for the moon point the way to the brightest stars in the constellations Gemini and Canis Minor.


Venus snuggle.  Early risers on Thursday, September 10, can catch the waning crescent moon paired up with Venus.

The cosmic duo will appear less than 3 degrees apart--the width of your three middle fingers held at arm’s length. Look carefully, though, and sky-watchers can glimpse another planet, the ruddy-colored Mars, which should pop into view as a fainter star-like object to the left of the moon.

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The moon has a close encounter with brilliant Venus and fainter Mars in the early morning eastern sky on Thursday.


Zodiacal lights.  Starting on Friday, September 11, and for the next two weeks, a near moonless sky in the pre-dawn hours gives the best chance for observers in the Northern Hemisphere to see the zodiacal lights.

This ethereal light is caused by sunlight reflecting off countless dust particles scattered between the planets along the plane of the solar system. In the dark countryside, far from city lights, look for a pyramid-shaped glow, fainter than the Milky Way, rising above the eastern horizon before sunrise.

Solar eclipse.  At sunrise on Sunday, September 13, a partial solar eclipse will greet skywatchers across southern Africa, southern Madagascar, and Antarctica.  

How big a bite out of the sun you get to see depends on location. The best place to see the event from land will be in Cape Town, South Africa, where the eclipse will reach 30 percent maximum coverage at 05:43 Universal Time (UT).  

Clear skies!

Follow Andrew Fazekas, the Night Sky Guy, on Twitter, Facebook, and his website.

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