If you enjoy stargazing, get ready for a celestial event that may not have previously happened in your lifetime. And if it did, you may have been too young to remember it.
On Monday, September 26, the planet Jupiter will be in opposition, which occurs when Earth and Jupiter’s orbits align, placing Earth between Jupiter and the Sun. While Jupiter comes to opposition roughly every 13 months, what’s noteworthy is that this will be Jupiter’s closest approach to Earth since 1963, explained astronomer Joe Rao, associate lecturer at the Hayden Planetarium in New York City.
At that point, Jupiter will still be 367,394,813 miles from Earth. However, it will be brightly illuminated and its four largest moons should be visible with the use of binoculars and small telescopes.
Jupiter And Its Moons
Jupiter, which is a gas giant so it doesn’t have an Earth-like surface, is the fifth planet from the Sun. It is also the largest planet in the solar system. In fact, it’s more than twice as large as all the other planets in our solar system combined.
Here’s how to put that size in perspective. If Earth were the size of a grape, Jupiter would be the size of a basketball, NASA explains.
While Saturn is known for its rings, Jupiter is known for what appear to be colorful stripes and swirls. These are actually clouds of ammonia and water floating in Jupiter’s atmosphere consisting of hydrogen and helium.
Jupiter’s surface is also known for its Great Red Spot, which can clearly be seen in pictures. The Great Red Spot is a giant storm — larger than Earth — that has been blowing for hundreds of years.
Finally, although Jupiter does have a ring system made of dust, it’s faint and difficult to see. What is relatively easy to see, however, are some of Jupiter’s 75 moons. The four largest of those moons — Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto — are known as the Galilean Moons, first observed by astronomer Galileo Galilei in 1610.
Interestingly, Jupiter cannot support life as we know it, but that might not be the case for its moon Europa. While Europa has a frozen crust of ice that may be up to 15 miles thick, scientists believe that the liquid-water ocean under the icy crust may support life.
How You Can See Jupiter And Its Moons
Jupiter has been visible in the night sky all month. By its time of opposition, when Earth is between Jupiter and the Sun, Jupiter will be rising in the east at sunset, according to EarthSky.
If you want to make plans and be sure to see Jupiter when it’s rising, you can use The Old Farmers’ Almanac’s Planet Rise and Set Times by Location tool to find the precise time Jupiter will rise in your location.
Even if you don’t see Jupiter when it’s rising, you’ll be able to see it shining brightly in the sky all night because the Sun will illuminate it. Plus, if you have binoculars or a telescope, be sure to look for Jupiter’s four Galilean Moons.
Finally, while Jupiter’s orbit of the Sun takes 11.9 years, it comes into opposition with Earth roughly every 13 months. Jupiter’s next opposition will be on November 2, 2023, but it won’t be as close as it is this month.
Be sure to check out the rest of our stargazing content, including: