Zodiacal Light Over ESO’s La Silla Observatory

We don’t put much stock in astrology or horoscopes here at Universe Today, but there’s one thing related to the zodiac that’s all science and no superstition: zodiacal light, captured here in a gorgeous photo by astronomer Alan Fitzsimmons above ESO’s La Silla Observatory.

Created by sunlight reflected off fine particles of dust concentrated inside the plane of the Solar System, zodiacal light appears as a diffuse, hazy band of light visible in dark skies stretching away from a recently-set Sun (or before the Sun is about to rise).

The Moon is located just outside the frame of this picture, bathing the observatory in an eerie light that is reflected off the clouds below.

The La Silla Observatory is located at the outskirts of the Chilean Atacama Desert at an altitude of 2400 meters (7,900 feet). Like other observatories in this area, La Silla is located far from sources of light pollution and, like ESO’s Paranal Observatory, it has some of the darkest night skies on the Earth.

The dome in the foreground, just to the right, is the Swiss 1.2-metre Leonhard Euler Telescope named in honor of the famous Swiss mathematician Leonhard Euler (1707–83).

Image credit: A. Fitzsimmons/ESO

6 Replies to “Zodiacal Light Over ESO’s La Silla Observatory”

  1. Odd that you don’t put stock in astrology yet you persist in using astrological language, i.e. ” a recently-set Sun” and “the Sun is about to rise”. Only in an Earth centric universe could such a thing happen. Give Galileo his due and start describing the rotation of the Earth correctly from now on. If you think everybody know what you really mean, I’ll set up a special tour of the Tennessee Creation Museum for you.

    1. At the risk of being presumptuous even further, I believe you are well aware that “sunset” and “sunrise” are common terms in astronomy and sky-watching, as are most of the “astrological” constellations — yes, even the ones used in newspaper column horoscopes. But it’s one thing to know where Aries or Scorpio are, it’s quite another to believe they have the power to influence one’s daily life.

      1. Indeed, they are common terms. They are also wrong. Does sunset mean ” The Sun moved across the heavens and has now dipped below the horizon.”, or does it mean “My spot on the planet has turned away from our star.”? It means the former, as it has for millennia.

        Why worry about this when obviously I know what you mean, and I read your column every chance I get? I live in a virulently anti-science state politically, where each and every scrap of scientific effluvia is taken and twisted into dangerous public policy. We simply can’t afford to be sloppy. (See Earth, Flat) Not to mention, it shouldn’t be too much to ask that in a scientific forum terms from the astrology section not be used.

      2. Unfortunately the terms “rise” and “set” will likely remain in the astronomical lexicon for some time still, as remarking on “a beautiful sunset” won’t easily be replaced by “an aesthetically pleasing rotation of our location on Earth away from a Sun-facing perspective.” More correct? Yes, but it’s a mouthful. 😉

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