The solar system and space in general has plenty of dust, and dust has major impacts on observing both visually and in radio astronomy.

If I wanted to "see dust" in space, or see its effects, using my eyes or at most a pair of regular binoculars, where could I look and what would I look at in order to say to myself "yep, that's dust!" or a direct result of dust's properties in space?

NOTE: It doesn't necessarily have to be interstellar dust!


2 Answers 2


If you can see the Milky Way, then in Summer through early Autumn you should be able to see the "dark rift" which runs through the middle of the milky way from Saggitarius to Deneb in Cygnus. This is a dust band in the Milky Way.

If you live far enough South, you can see the Coalsack, a quite dense dust cloud near the Southern Cross, and also clearly visible without optics.


Zodiacal light!

Zodiacal light (also called false dawn when seen before sunrise) is a faint, diffuse, and roughly triangular white glow that is visible in the night sky and appears to extend from the Sun's direction and along the zodiac, straddling the ecliptic. Sunlight scattered by interplanetary dust causes this phenomenon. Zodiacal light is best seen during twilight after sunset in spring and before sunrise in autumn, when the zodiac is at a steep angle to the horizon. However, the glow is so faint that moonlight and/or light pollution outshine it, rendering it invisible.

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Source and Source

Brian May (CBE):

In 2007, Brian May, lead guitarist with the band Queen, completed his thesis, A Survey of Radial Velocities in the Zodiacal Dust Cloud, thirty-six years after abandoning it to pursue a career in music. He was able to submit it only because of the minimal amount of research on the topic undertaken during the intervening years. May describes the subject as being one that became "trendy" again in the 2000s.

Brian May's Thesis: A survey of radial velocities in the zodiacal dust cloud

And for good measure, Brian May's announcement of IAU's naming of the asteroid 17473 Freddiemercury YouTube: https://youtu.be/o2vo6VR51eA

Zodiacal light is sunlight scattered by interplanetary dust:

Cosmic dust, also called extraterrestrial dust or space dust, is dust which exists in outer space, or has fallen on Earth. Most cosmic dust particles are between a few molecules to 0.1 µm in size. Cosmic dust can be further distinguished by its astronomical location: intergalactic dust, interstellar dust, interplanetary dust (such as in the zodiacal cloud) and circumplanetary dust (such as in a planetary ring).

In the Solar System, interplanetary dust causes the zodiacal light. Solar System dust includes comet dust, asteroidal dust, dust from the Kuiper belt, and interstellar dust passing through the Solar System. Thousands of tons of cosmic dust are estimated to reach the Earth's surface every year, with each grain having a mass between 10^−16 kg (0.1 pg) and 10^−4 kg (100 mg). The density of the dust cloud through which the Earth is traveling is approximately 10^−6/m3.

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