We went to Ecuador to photograph the zodiacal light

George Jones went to Ecuador to study the zodiacal light. So we did too.

My desire was to proceed to Quito, where, in its proximity to the equator and in the transparent atmosphere of its great altitude, I hoped to have peculiar advantages for my work. At the equator, an observer must have the ecliptic vertical to him, at some hour or other, every night throughout the year… My hope was to be able to ascertain exactly the position of this nebulous ring in regard to the ecliptic….

Observations on the Zodiacal Light at Quito, Ecuador, with deductions. The American Journal of Science, 1857, p. 374

Sounds like good advice. In other words, you can see the zodiacal light anywhere. But to be able to distinguish whether the zodiacal light lies along the ecliptic or not, your best shot-in-the-dark at this observation is to go to the Equator.

Imagine that you are watching a highway from the sidelines and you think one of the drivers is swerving back and forth across the highway, right lanes to left lanes and back. You couldn’t really be sure if you were on on the sidelines a block away, but if you could get onto the median strip, you would know for sure. Exactly the same way, the equator is a good latitude for watching the ecliptic: at some hour or other, every night throughout the year, Quito is like being on the median strip of the ecliptic. If the zodiacal light is a great circle tilted a few degrees from the ecliptic, rather than lying along it, in Quito you could tell.

But there is a problem….

Quito is much troubled with clouds and rains. Nine months in the year are rainy; and only June, July and August are usually favored with clear skies; sometimes the clouds and rains continue through all the year….. I was not able to reach Quito till the close of August; from which time on, during all my stay of eight months on the Cordilleras, I had to contend unceasingly with the clouds.

Ibid, p. 375

For sure.

It has just been too cloudy so far.

Our first month in Ecuador, July 2018, had some clear nights, but that month’s work was no good because I had not found a good place for photography of the night sky. In our second month, August 2018, we moved to a place with a great balcony (in Cuenca). By then it was generally too cloudy at night. I did all-night time lapses so I am really sure. Beautiful afternoon skies would turn cloudy at sunset and stay that way all night.

But when the sky is clear it is a superbly glorious sight, such as I have never beheld in any other part of the world. The heavens are then fairly crowded with the smaller stars: and the Milky Way has a brightness and an apparent proximity wonderful to behold. … Soon after reaching these altitudes, on going out, about midnight, to see whether I could find the Zodiacal Light over both horizons…. I saw this light not only over the horizons but also quite across the sky.

Ibid, p. 375.

So we are here, waiting for June-July-August.

3 thoughts on “We went to Ecuador to photograph the zodiacal light

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