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Exoplanets: The Interplanetary Dust Factor

27 Apr 2018, 17:34 UTC
Exoplanets: The Interplanetary Dust Factor
(200 words excerpt, click title or image to see full post)

I usually get up while it’s still dark and take a walk. The idea is to shake the night’s dreams out of my head, listen to the birds waking up and pull in a lot of fresh air, all conducive to thinking about what I want to write that day. Last fall I kept noticing the glow before morning twilight that marked the zodiacal cloud, faint enough to be lost in moonlight and challenging to see when competing with city lights. But catch the right conditions and its diffuse glow is apparent, as in the photograph below, a striking example of zodiacal light’s effect.

Image: Sometimes mistaken for light pollution, zodiacal light is sunlight that is reflected by zodiacal dust. It is most visible several hours after sunset on dark, cloudless nights surrounding the spring and fall equinoxes, when the Earth’s equator is aligned with the plane of the solar system. Credit: Malcol.
What we’re seeing, especially at times when the ecliptic is at its largest angle to the horizon, hence autumn and spring, is the light of the Sun reflecting off dust in the Solar System. Most of the material in this interplanetary dust cloud is concentrated along the ...

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