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False dawn

Posted by Smokey Stover on August 10, 2007

In Reply to: False dawn posted by RRC on August 10, 2007

: : : What is a "false dawn"? and where does it come from?

: : Another name for it is "sodiacal light." An excellent source for the information you want is at:

: :

: : I'll quote a bit of the description there:

: : "At certain times of year in the right locations, a faint cone of light appears in the predawn sky for lucky viewers in dark locations. This eerie glow is the Zodiacal Light.

: : "It is best seen before daybreak, generally two to three hours before sunrise in the eastern sky. But its also visible in the west at certain times of year.

: : "Over the centuries countless individuals have been fooled into thinking the Zodiacal Light was the first vestige of morning twilight. In fact, the Persian astronomer, mathematician and poet Omar Khayyam, who lived around the turn of the 12th Century, made reference to it as a "false dawn" in his one long poem, The Rubaiyat....

: : "It was once thought to be solely an atmospheric phenomenon: perhaps reflected sunlight shining on the very high atmosphere of Earth.

: : "We now know, however, that while the phenomenon indeed involves reflected sunlight, it is being reflected not off our atmosphere, but rather off a nonuniform distribution of space debris left over from the formation of the planets some 4.5 billion years ago."

: : By "the East" is generally understood, I believe, the Middle East, where it is more commonly seen and there are more travelers' reports of it.
: : SS

: I'm not sure what that bit about "the East" is referring to. The article is referring to it being visible on the eastern or western edge of the horizon not "in the East" or "in the West".

: Metaphorically, the phrase is used to mean a seemingly hopeful beginning that isn't realized. The Beetles winning their first game was a false dawn to their otherwise losing season.

Doubtless I was over-influenced by the definition in the OED:

"transient light which precedes the true dawn by about an hour, a phenomenon common in the East. Also fig."