Jupiter Reaches Opposition, Closest Approach to Earth in 70 Years! – Watch the sky

Stargazers can expect excellent views of Jupiter throughout the night of Monday, September 26th when the giant planet reaches opposition. From the point of view of the Earth’s surface, resistance occurs when an astronomical body rises in the east with sunset in the west, placing the body and the sun on opposite sides of the Earth.

Jupiter’s opposition occurs every 13 months, making the planet appear larger and brighter than at any other time of the year. but that is not all. Jupiter will also make its closest approach to Earth in the past 70 years! This happens because Earth and Jupiter do not orbit the Sun in perfect circles – which means that the planets will pass each other at different distances throughout the year. Jupiter’s closest approach to Earth rarely matches opposition, which means this year’s views will be exceptional. At its closest approach, Jupiter will be about 365 million miles from Earth. The massive planet is about 600 million miles from Earth at its farthest point.

Picture of Jupiter with a red spot
This image of Jupiter, taken by the Hubble Space Telescope on June 27, 2019, shows the Giant Red Spot, an Earth-sized storm that has been raging for hundreds of years. Source: NASA, ESA, and A. Simon (Goddard Space Flight Center), and MH Wong (University of California, Berkeley).

“With good binoculars, the band (at least the central band) and three or four of the Galilean satellites(s) should be visible,” said Adam Kobelsky, an astrophysicist at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. “It is important to remember that Galileo observed these moons using 17th century optics. One of the primary needs would be a stable installation of whatever system you use.”

Kobelsky recommends a larger telescope to see Jupiter’s Great Red Spot and bands in more detail; A 4-inch or larger telescope and some filters in the green to blue range would enhance the visibility of these features.

According to Kobelski, the ideal viewing location would be at a high altitude in a dark, dry area.

“Opinions should be great for a few days before and after September 26th,” Kobelsky said. “So, take advantage of the good weather on either side of this date to enjoy watching. Outside the moon, it has to be one of the brightest (if not) things in the night sky.”

As the moon rises over the Wasatch Mountains near Salt Lake City on February 27, 2019, Jupiter, along with three of its largest moons, can be seen.
As the moon rises over the Wasatch Mountains near Salt Lake City on February 27, 2019, Jupiter, along with three of its largest moons, can be seen. A stargazer should have a similar view during Jupiter in opposition on Monday, September 26. Credits: NASA/Bill Dunford

Jupiter has 53 moons, but scientists believe that 79 moons have been discovered in total. The four largest moons, Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto, are called Galilean moons. They are named after the man who first saw them in 1610, Galileo Galilei. In binoculars or telescopes, Galilean satellites should appear as bright spots on either side of Jupiter during opposition.

NASA’s Juno spacecraft, which has been orbiting Jupiter for six years, is dedicated to exploring the planet’s surface and its moons. Juno began its journey in 2011 and reached Jupiter five years later. Since 2016, the spacecraft has provided incredible images and data about Jupiter’s biosphere, internal structures, internal magnetic field, and magnetosphere.

Scientists believe that the study of Jupiter could lead to extraordinary discoveries about the formation of the solar system. Juno’s mission was recently extended to 2025, or until the end of the spacecraft’s life. Learn more about Juno.

The next major project to explore Jupiter is the Europa Clipper. This spacecraft will explore Jupiter’s iconic moon, Europa, known for its icy shell. NASA scientists hypothesize the existence of a vast ocean lying beneath the surface and aim to determine if Europa had conditions capable of sustaining life. The Europa Clipper target launch is set for October 2024.

Learn more about the giant planet. And if you want to know what else is happening in the sky for September, check out JPL’s latest “What’s Up” video:

by Lynn Figueroa

Leave a Comment