Jupiter will appear larger and brighter than usual on Monday night as it makes its closest approach to Earth since 1963.
Jupiter, a massive milky-orange gas giant, is the largest planet in our solar system. The planet’s bands of color are swirling gases that churn into huge storm systems. Some of those systems, like Jupiter’s Great Red Spot, last for centuries.
The planet’s amazing features will be clearly seen tonight thanks to the way it orbits the Sun. Both Earth’s and Jupiter’s orbits are slightly elliptical, meaning the distance between the two planets varies. And the orbits of the two planets are quite different: One year on Jupiter, or the time it takes to make one trip around the Sun, takes 12 Earth years.
At its greatest distance, Jupiter is about 600 million miles from Earth. But tonight, it will only be 367 million miles from us. Jupiter is on the opposite side of Earth from the Sun tonight, a position called opposition, which makes the gas giant appear larger and brighter than usual.
According to Adam Kobelski, a research astrophysicist at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, the bands of the planet and several of the Galilean moons will be visible with good binoculars. “One of the key needs will be a stable mount for whatever system you use,” Kobelski said in a NASA statement. release.
A 4-inch or larger telescope will be able to spot specific features on the face of the planet, such as the Great Red Spot. If you don’t have a decent telescope or binoculars, Jupiter will still be visible to the naked eye, but you won’t be able to see any details of the planet.
Even so, its brightness will be more noticeable than usual thanks to its proximity. No matter how you choose to view Jupiter, clear weather conditions, high elevations, and a dark sky will help. Although its closest approach will be tonight, Jupiter and its moons will be more visible for the next few nights, according to a NASA statement.
And if you want to see Jupiter in a superlative color, you can check out some recent images from the Webb Space Telescope that captured the planet’s auroras in infrared.
Jupiter’s moons are also poised for more attention. NASA Clippers Europe The mission, scheduled to launch no earlier than October 2024, will give us our best look yet at Jupiter’s frozen moon Europa. Scientists believe that a vast salty ocean lies beneath Europa’s icy crust. The Clipper will map the Moon’s surface and use ice-penetrating radar to peer into the mysterious underworld.
There are exciting missions on the horizon for Jupiter and its satellites, but for the next few nights we will be able to view these celestial bodies from right here on Earth.