Image: Nicholas Buer
However, zodiacal light is elusive by nature: if the Moon is shining, for example, or the Sun is too close to the horizon, it’s usually barely visible. When the night sky isn’t graced by the Moon’s presence, though, it’s zodiacal light that instead provides 60 percent of the illumination.
Image: Tudorica Alexandru
Three men in particular played a key role in bringing this incredible spectacle to wider attention. It’s thought that astrologer Joshua Childrey was the first to make note of the phenomenon, back in 1661. In 1683 astronomer Giovanni Domenico Cassini then gave the earliest explanation for zodiacal light, which was followed a year later by mathematician Nicolas Fatio de Duillier’s elucidation of its origins.
Image: Stephen Cheatley
Rather incredibly, Fatio de Duillier’s explanation correctly surmised that the celestial glow is caused by light bouncing off dust particles surrounding the Sun. Today, it’s also known that the light originates from the ecliptic plane – the route by which the Sun travels across the sky, falling at the heart of the Zodiac.