This time of year we Mainers are looking to the skies to see more daylight as the dawn of spring approaches. But, one special sky observation that is taking place right now may be a reason to watch the skies once the sun has set for the day, and it's called Zodiacal Light.
What is Zodiacal Light?
According to EarthSky.com, Zodiacal Light is a pillar of light seen at dusk and dawn that looks kind of eerie. It is described as a pillar of light or 'a milky pyramid of light. These pillars of light are most distinctive in areas that have less artificial light, which is great for locations in Maine that pride themselves as dark sky havens.
What we are actually seeing is sunlight refracting off of dust in the inner section of our solar system. The dust is spread out like a disk that we see as pillars of light in our sky during the spring and autumn.
Where and when to look
When the sun sets, look to the eastern horizon. Right now being close to springtime, we will see its most extreme view after dusk. In fact, right now is the beginning of the season to see this phenomenon. You'll be able to capture it until May.
While it's most apparent in the tropics and in the south-western U.S., there are northern states and Canada that will witness this event as well. The key is to be in a dark area, which Maine has plenty of in the Western mountains along with the Northern half of the state and parts of Downeast.
What you will see
Without keen observation, it may just look like light from a nearby town on the horizon. It may be hard to distinguish if you live in an artificial light-rich area but, living in the darker, more rural parts of Maine, you'll be able to distinguish the difference.
But, looking longer and closer, you will see a milky pyramid or pillar of light stretching up into the sky.
Optimal Viewing of Zodiacal Light In Maine
Find a dark location such as the Western Mountains, in Northern Maine near Baxter State Park or really anywhere that isn't close to I95, or inland in Downeast. The skies should be clear and the best time to see this is when the moon is in it's new moon phase or a sliver of a crescent.
Look to the skies after the sun has set and wait for the pillar of light to grow.
This event is happening now during our springtime but is also viewed closer to the autumn equinox right before dawn. So, if you are a morning person, you'll have to wait late August into early November to see the zodiacal light before dawn at its steepest and most obvious.
Happy viewing and take in the wonders of the sky as we start taking in more sunlight in a few different ways.
Here's a bit more about one of the dark sky locations of Maine...