People like us get asked all the time, “is Jupiter out?”, “Can you show Jupiter?”, or “When is the best time to view Jupiter?”
Well.. that time is now!
Every year, Earth reaches a point in its orbit around our Sun where it is directly in line with Jupiter. We call this event an “Opposition,” meaning, an object is directly opposite the Sun relative to us.
This also coincides with Jupiter being closest to Earth for the year. Normally, Jupiter is around 500 million miles away from Earth on average. But on the nights of June 10 and 11, Jupiter will be around 365 million miles away!
This causes Jupiter to be at it’s brightest in the sky. So bright, in fact, that from a dark location (FAR from city lights), it can affect your night vision, and possibly cast faint shadows on white surfaces!
Through a telescope, it appears slightly bigger too! Even at low magnification (40-50x), you can see brownish stripes which are its cloud bands. You also easily notice three-four stars all in a line near the planet, these are the four Galilean Moons – named in honor of Galileo who discovered them. While Jupiter has about 79 known satellites, most of them are small and potato shaped, however, The four Galilean Moons on the other hand are huge, spherical, and easily visible in any Earth based telescope.
Normally, Io is the closest, Callisto is the farthest, and Europa and Ganymede are in the middle, but their positions do change by the hour. Io’s orbit is so fast around the planet (42 hours around Jupiter versus our Moon’s 648 hours around Earth), that you can sometimes watch it transit in front of and cast a shadow on Jupiter!
The Great Red Spot is also visible as long as it’s on the side facing Earth and the Sun. At high magnification, it’s easily seen as an orange “period,” and it can be seen to gradually move across the southern hemisphere of the planet before disappearing.
To the naked eye, Jupiter is easily seen as a bright cream colored “star” currently in between the constellations Scorpius and Sagittarius, which on June 10 will begin rising in the southeast just as the Sun is setting.
On Jupiter’s opposition night, it will be visible all night (from Sunset to Sunrise), and it will be best viewed around midnight when it’s highest in the sky. If the air is steady enough, looking at Jupiter at 300x magnification and above will amaze you with the details you can see!
After June 10, you’ll start seeing Jupiter become much more prominent in the evening skies after sunset, and the planet will continue to dazzle casual viewers and stargazers alike until mid to late autumn.
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