Stargazers are going to be dazzled when the giant red planet reaches the closest distance to Earth in close to six decades on Monday, Sept. 26.
Jupiter will reach so-called "opposition" that night -- when it will rise east as the Sun sets in the west, placing the planet and the sun on opposite sides of the earth. The dynamic, NASA scientists say, makes for a rare and extraordinary viewing of the giant planet.
How often does Jupiter reach opposition?
Jupiter’s opposition occurs every 13 months, making the planet appear larger and brighter than any other time of the year. Jupiter will make its closest approach to Earth in the last 59 years on Monday.
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The inconsistency of distance is due to imperfect orbits Jupiter and Earth make around the Sun — meaning the planets will pass each other at different distances throughout the year.
It is rare for Jupiter’s closest approach to coincide with opposition, which means viewing will be spectacular this year.
How far away will Jupiter be?
At its closest, Jupiter will be approximately 367 million miles in distance from Earth, about the same distance the planet was in 1963.
In comparison, the massive planet is about 600 million miles away from Earth at its farthest point.
What's the best way to see Jupiter?
An ideal viewing location is at a high elevation in a dark and dry area, according to Adam Kobelski, a research astrophysicist at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.
In order to see Jupiter’s Great Red Spot and bands in more detail, Kobelski recommends using a larger telescope. However, a good pair of binoculars will showcase the central bands and three of the four Galilean satellites or moons, he said.
“The views should be great for a few days before and after Sept. 26,” Kobelski told a NASA scientist in a blog. “So, take advantage of good weather on either side of this date to take in the sight. Outside of the Moon, it should be one of the (if not the) brightest objects in the sky.
How many moons does Jupiter have?
Jupiter has 53 named moons, but scientists estimate there is a total of 79 moons. The four largest moons are called the Galilean satellites with the names Lo, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto. The moons are named after the first man who observed them in 1610, Galileo Galilei.
In binoculars or a telescope, the Galilean satellites should appear as bright dots on either side of Jupiter during opposition.
Has NASA explored Jupiter?
Orbiting the planet for six years is NASA’s Juno spacecraft. Juno began its journey in 2011 and reached Jupiter five years later. Since 2016, the spacecraft has provided images and data about Jupiter’s atmosphere, interior structures, internal magnetic field and magnetosphere. Juno’s mission was extended until 2025.
The next major project for Jupiter exploration is the Europa Clipper. The spacecraft will explore Jupiter’s moon Europa, which is known for its icy shell and vast ocean that lies beneath its surface. NASA aims to find whether Europa has conditions able to sustain life. The targeted launch date is scheduled for October 2024.
To learn more about the fifth in line from the Sun visit NASA’s website.