The phenomenon known as zodiacal light appears as a pyramid-shaped glow that is best viewed around an hour after sunset and is visible to lucky stargazers in Tenerife for the next few weeks.
Zodiacal light is caused by sunlight reflecting off interplanetary dust particles that orbit the sun within the inner solar system at a distance of about 600 million km from earth.
These grains are ancient, and are thought to be left over from the process that created Earth around 4.5 billion years ago.
The glow coincides with snowfall on El Tielde volcano, which at 3,718 meters (12,198ft) above sea level is Spain’s highest mountain.
El Teide nevado y luz zodiacal, un fenómeno físico en el que la luz solar es reflejada es dispersada por el polvo interplanetario que se encuentra en el plano que define la órbita de la Tierra (eclíptica).— IAC Astrofísica (@IAC_Astrofisica) February 5, 2018
Crédito: Daniel López / @IAC_Astrofisica pic.twitter.com/rxvXDcNYqM
These two images were captured on February 3rd by Juan Carlos Casado and Daniel López and published by the Astrophysics Institute of the Canary Islancds
The photos were taken from the Teide Observatory, the largest solar observatory in the world, which is located in the El Teide National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a recognised ‘Starlight Tourist Destination’ because of its exceptionally clear and protected dark skies.
John E Beckman an astrophysicist at the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias explained exactly what it was that the photos capture.
“The zodiacal light is sunlight reflected off very fine dust particles which lie in the plane of the ecliptic. This is the plane in which the planets orbit the sun, and is a remarkably very thin disc, all the planets orbit in the same plane,” he told The Local.
“In very clear air, away from contamination and light pollution it is possible to see it with the naked eye, and of course a photograph accumulates light and makes it much easier to pick out.”
And the best way to see it?
“It is hard to see in moonlight, so observable only when the moon is either dark or well below the horizon.
“It is strongest near to the sun, so best observed just after sunset or just before sunrise, although with any kind of cloud or dust in the air this will not be possible as the remaining sunlight scattered in our atmosphere will conceal it.
“As the dust particles are very small they tend to spiral in to the sun quite quickly, and need to be continually replaced. This must be due to cometary material which is stripped from the comets as they go close to the sun.”
Compartimos unas imágenes del Parque Nacional del Teide y el Observatorio del Teide tras las últimas nevadas, tomadas por el astrofotógrafo colaborador del @IAC_Astrofisica Daniel López. #OTTenerife pic.twitter.com/2rb6uRmjlQ— IAC Astrofísica (@IAC_Astrofisica) February 5, 2018
He explained that the Teide is an amost perfect observational site:
“The Teide National Park is an almost ideal site to observe the Zodiacal Light, as it has very clean air, and in many directions the light pollution from towns is very small, which is one of the reasons why we have the observatories.”