The Illusion of Space Dust

Cosmic dust can create an illusion of both light and darkness

ESO/P. Horálek

Cosmic dust is an intriguing phenomena— it blocks light from distant stars and also creates an illusion of light. The dark, swirling gases in the centre of the frame block the light from distant stars but gases to the right of the frame give rise to what scientists call a “false dawn”. This eerie glow in the image is caused by sunlight scattered by space dust in the zodiacal cloud (cosmic dust between planets in the Solar System).

To the left, we can observe a faint brightening of the night sky (the sky after the sun has set) at the anti-solar point (exactly opposite the sun). This phenomenon ins known as Gegenschein—German for “countershine”. To the right, a bright column of zodiacal light appears to rise like a sun above the horizon.