Monday, May 12, 2008

The Gegenschein and the Glory

So what the hell is the gegenschein, and what the hell is the glory?

"Is the night sky darkest in the direction opposite the Sun? No. In fact, a rarely discernable faint glow known as the gegenschein (German for "counter glow") can be seen 180 degrees around from the Sun in an extremely dark sky. The gegenschein is sunlight back-scattered off small interplanetary dust particles. These dust particles are millimeter sized splinters from asteroids and orbit in the ecliptic plane of the planets. Pictured above from last October is one of the most spectacular pictures of the gegenschein yet taken. Here a deep exposure of an extremely dark sky over Paranal Observatory in Chile shows the gegenschein so clearly that even a surrounding glow is visible. In the foreground are several of the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescopes, while notable background objects include the Andromeda galaxy toward the lower left and the Pleiades star cluster just above the horizon. The gegenschein is distinguished from zodiacal light near the Sun by the high angle of reflection. During the day, a phenomenon similar to the gegenschein called the glory can be seen in reflecting air or clouds opposite the Sun from an airplane."

"Looking out the window of an airplane, you might be lucky enough to see "the glory" in the direction directly opposite the Sun. Before airplanes, the phenomenon, known to some as the heiligenschein or the Specter of the Brocken, was sometimes seen from mountaintops. There, when conditions were right, one could look away from the Sun and see what appeared to be the shadow of a giant surrounded by a bright halo. The giant turns out to be the observer, as in the modern version a silhouette of an plane frequently occupies the glory's center. Pictured above, several concentric rings of the glory were photographed. The cause of the glory has only been understood recently and is relatively complex. Briefly, small droplets of water reflect, refract, and diffract sunlight backwards towards the Sun. The phenomenon has similar counterparts in other branches of science including astronomy, where the looking out from the Earth in the direction opposite the Sun yields a bright spot called the gegenschein."


Alexander said...

Interesting. Not sure if I've seen this particular phenomenon, but looking out of a plane window at sunrise or sunset is always a deeply affecting experience for me. Especially if the cloud is very broken and you can see all the way down to ships down in the vast sea like little dots. A very humbling experience, and of course very romantic and nostalgic.

Martin said...

I love looking down on the clouds from a plane :) One of lifes little pleasures!