I apologize for being out of commission here for a few days. I’ve been furiously working to complete my second book. After finishing the draft late last week, it was time to edit. I love editing. It’s like cleaning house and getting everything in order, but it takes a lot of concentration. That’s why I’ve been unable to spend much time here. Things have been slow in the sky (thankfully!), so we’re not missing anything noteworthy. That will change later this week with a superb conjunction of Venus and Mars. More on that in a moment. The new book, set to publish next May, will be a bucket list of night sky goodies and expand the scope of the previous book.
I did manage to get out Saturday morning early to see the zodiacal light, a cone of sunlit comet dust that tilts up from the eastern horizon just before the start of dawn. Through all of October and November, whenever the moon’s out of the sky, the zodiacal light towers in the east beginning about an hour before the start of dawn. Look for a large (6 fists tall by 3 fists wide) lump of haze standing up in the eastern sky. Venus, always a helpful guide, shines near the bottom of the cone.
Dust shed by comets along with debris from asteroid collisions salt-and-pepper the plane of the solar system. That plane, called the ecliptic, slices through the middle of the zodiac constellations and stands at a steep angle on fall mornings and spring evenings. Sunlight lights the dust up, and we see it as a smooth glow, something like the Milky Way but without the lumpy texture.
Tomorrow morning will be the last moonless one for viewing this faint, diffuse phenomenon, then we’ll have to wait for the moon to run its course before departing the scene around Oct. 17. Two weeks of moonless skies follow — perfect for zodiacal light watching. October is the best time of year to see this false dawn.
Not far below Venus you’ll see another star-like object that’s quite a bit fainter. That’s Mars. On Thursday morning Oct. 5, Mars will past just ¼° north of its brilliant rival. That’s a very close conjunction and worth getting up to see. The sky should still be dark enough around 6 a.m. for a good view. Look low in the east for Venus and then just below and right of Venus for Mars.