Thursday, October 22, 2015

Planets, Orionids and Zodiacal Light

Meteor with Venus, Jupiter and Mars rising in zodiacal light during the Orionids, October 22, 2015
Who saw or photographed some Orionid meteors over the last night or two?  In the photo above, a meteor crosses over the path of Venus, Jupiter and Mars, rising in zodiacal light during the Orionid meteor shower around 5 am this morning, October 22, 2015.

Although the streak is clearly a meteor (note the characteristic green color), technically it's not an Orionid, since the radiant point for the Orionid meteor shower is out of the upper right corner of the frame.  So this meteor is traveling at nearly a right angle to what its trajectory would be if it were one of the Orionids.

It may however be a Leo Minorid meteor, since its radiant point is to the left of Venus Jupiter and Mars this morning.  The Leo Minorid meteor shower peaks the morning of October 23, but it is a minor shower with an estimated 2 meteors per hour, but minor showers sometimes have an unexpectedly high rate, so tomorrow morning could offer a surprise from the Leo Minorids along with after-peak Orionids.

There are also random, sporadic meteors, particularly in the early morning, as your position on the earth rotates to the leading side of the earth as it travels through space rotating around the sun.

The Zodiacal light is sunlight shining off of dust in our solar system, the light tilted up from the lower left in the photo above.  You can experience the Zodiacal light, or false dawn, this time of year when a a pyramid-shaped glow can be seen in the east an hour before dawn's first light (or 80 to 120 minutes before sunrise). This light is caused by sunlight reflecting off of dust particles in space in the same plane as earth and can resemble the lights from a city. It is tilted to follow the same ecliptic plane that the planets travel in.  Zodiacal light is best seen under dark skies, in places with minimal light pollution.  You can catch the Zodiacal light for another 2 or 3 mornings this month, but after that the moon will be too full and it will no longer set early enough to leave you with a dark enough sky to see this pre-dawn light.

You can see the Zodiacal light as the planets rise in this time-lapse video captured this morning before and twilight light started to brighten the sky:

Venus, Jupiter and Mars in Zodiacal light during the Orionid meteor shower this morning