Jupiter will appear larger and brighter than usual on Monday evening as it has made its closest approach to Earth since 1963.
Jupiter – a massive, milky-orange gas giant – is the largest planet in our solar system. The streaks of color on the planet are swirling gases Churn in huge storm systems. Some of these systems, like Jupiter’s Great Red Spot, last for centuries.
The planet’s impressive features will be clearly visible tonight thanks to its orbit around the sun. Both the orbits of Earth and Jupiter are slightly elliptical, meaning the distance between the two planets varies. And the orbits of the two planets are quite different — a year on Jupiter, or the time it takes to orbit the Sun, is 12 Earth years.
At its greatest distance, Jupiter is about 600 million miles from Earth. But tonight it’s only 367 million miles from us. Jupiter is on the opposite side of Earth from the Sun tonight, a position known as opposition, making 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 planet’s bands and several of the Galilean moons will be visible with good binoculars. “One of the most important requirements is going to be a stable mount for whatever system you use,” Kobelski said in a NASA publication.
A 4-inch telescope or larger will be able to spot certain features on the planet’s face, like the Great Red Spot. Unless you have a telescope or decent binoculars, Jupiter is still visible to the naked eye, but you can’t make out any of the planet’s details.
Still, thanks to its proximity, its brightness will be more noticeable than usual. No matter how you observe Jupiter, clear weather conditions, high elevations, and dark skies will help you. Though its closest approach will be tonight, Jupiter and its moons are reported to be more visible over the next few nights a NASA publication.
And if you want to see Jupiter in superlative colors, there are a few you can refer to Recent images from the Webb Space Telescope which captured the planet’s auroras in the infrared.
More attention is also being paid to the moons of Jupiter. NASA’s Europe clippers The mission, which is not scheduled to launch until October 2024 at the earliest, will give us our best view yet of Jupiter’s frozen moon Europa. Scientists believe that beneath Europa’s ice crust lies a vast, salty ocean. The Clipper will map the moon’s surface and peer into the mysterious underworld using ice-penetrating radar.
There are exciting missions on the horizon for Jupiter and its satellites, but over the next few nights we will be able to appreciate these celestial bodies directly from here on Earth.