The Zodiacal Light is a faint cone of light, sometimes seen in the west for an hour or so after dark. It can also appear in the east, about an hour before dawn. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, the Zodiacal Light can best be seen in the west during February and March and in the east in September and October.

This faint glow is sunlight from below the horizon reflecting off of small particles orbiting the Sun in the plane of the ecliptic (the path against the stars that the Sun appears to follow as the Earth orbits it). The Zodiacal Light is visible around the time of the spring and autumnal equinoxes, when the ecliptic is at a steep angle with respect to the horizon.

Since the Zodiacal Light is quite faint, it can only be viewed on clear, dark nights. From the 285 corridor, the pre-dawn Zodiacal Light is easily visible since our eastern skies are quite dark. However, seeing the Zodiacal Light in the west after dark has become increasingly difficult in our area, primarily due to the light dome from the greater Albuquerque area and the bright lights of the prison.

While various resources indicate that the pre-dawn Zodiacal Light is visible in ‘September and October’ or ‘near the autumnal equinox,’ I’ve viewed it from my home in Eldorado as early as the latter half of June and as late as mid-January.

Pre-dawn Zodiacal Light, as seen from Galisteo on June 30, 2020. Note how the Zodiacal Light presents a shallow angle to the horizon since it’s 12 weeks shy of the autumnal equinox. Venus is the bright ‘star’ on the horizon, just left of center and below the Pleiades star cluster.

The pre-dawn Zodiacal Light, photographed from Eldorado on January 17, 2021. You can see the upper half of Scorpius and first magnitude Antares above the horizon in the center of the photo.

Currently, the Zodiacal Light is conveniently located in the western sky, just after dark. See if you can view it, despite the nearby light pollution. I saw and photographed it this week.

The evening Zodiacal Light in the WNW, shining up between the light dome of the greater Albuquerque area (left) and the prison lights (right). The photo was taken just after dark on March 7. The angle of the Zodiacal Light is steep since the Spring Equinox is only two weeks away. Note that the evening Zodiacal Light leans toward the left, while the pre-dawn Zodiacal Light, shown in the earlier photos, leans toward the right. In both instances, the Zodiacal Light follows the angle of the ecliptic.

We need to protect our dark skies, so we can continue to see this ghostly interplanetary light.