Zodiacal Light and Orion's Nebula


The Zodiacal Light is back for February, March and early April. It just won't be visible when the moon is shining, so you'll have to wait until the moon comes up later. The full Snow Moon occurs on Feb. 26 and 27, so you'll have to wait for a few days after that occurs to see this. It's only visible when the moon isn't out, and most likely won't be visible in cities where the light is bright.

It looks like a hazy pyramid of light in the southwest after the Sun sets and the sky gets dark. This time of year, the ecliptic path of the Sun, moon and planets stands nearly straight up with respect to the horizon after the Sun sets. When you see it, you're looking edgewise into the plane of our star system.

What you'll see is the Sun reflecting off dust particles that move in the same plane as all the planets orbiting our Sun. Look in the WSW for a pyramid shape glow rising from the ground. It's milkier in appearance than our Milky Way and will be visible for about an hour. I've seen it many times.

When you look at Orion have you noticed something going straight down slightly below his belt? That's his sword of 3 stars, and the middle one is M-42. It's a little fuzzy since it's a star cluster called Orion's Nebula which has enough material to create about 2,000 stars.

It's a cloud of gas and dust about 24LY wide that is creating new stars. So, it's a huge star factory. It's about 1,344 LY from us and is the closest star forming region to us. You'll be able to see all 3 objects, but obviously binoculars or a telescope will let you see more of M-42.

When you look at the Winter Circle and observe the lowest and brightest star Sirius, you may see an object just below it and slightly to the right. That's a star cluster M-41 and it's only 4 degrees from Sirius. It contains about 100 stars and is estimated to be between 190 and 240 million years old. It should be easily visible, but obviously binoculars or a telescope will show you more.

By the 25thyou should be able to see the planets coming up in the ESE before the Sun rises. They will be Jupiter, Mercury and Saturn.  So, look out a window at least a half hour before the Sun rises. Jupiter will be the lowest and on the left. It's also the brightest. Obviously, you can also go outside if you don't have a window facing that area.