Over two years after Jupiter and Saturn came in line with Earth in a rare planetary conjunction, the former is once again headed towards us. The largest planet in the solar system will be hanging over the skies later this month as it comes closest to Earth in nearly 70 years.
Jupiter will be visible in the skies the entire night of September 26 when it reaches opposition. The planet’s opposition happens when an astronomical object rises in the east as the Sun sets in the west, placing the object and the Sun on opposite sides of Earth as seen from our home planet.
This opposition is special since this will be Jupiter’s closest approach to Earth in 70 years. This happens due to the difference in orbit of the two planets around the Sun. Both Jupiter and Earth do not orbit the Sun in perfect circles. It means that the planets will pass each other at different distances throughout the year.
During the closest approach on Monday, Jupiter will be over 58 crore kilometers away from us, which at its farthest point from us is 96 crore kilometers away. “Jupiter’s closest approach to Earth rarely coincides with opposition, which means this year’s views will be extraordinary,” Nasa said in an update.
While the planet will be closest to Earth, it will still be difficult to see it with the naked eyes thanks to the humongous distance between us and the planet. However, a telescope can help enlarge the view and bring the planet into focus. Try and find higher ground with open skies for better viewing.
“With good binoculars, the banding (at least the central band) and three or four of the Galilean satellites (moons) should be visible. It’s important to remember that Galileo observed these moons with 17th-century optics. One of the key needs will be a stable mount for whatever system you use,” Adam Kobelski, a research astrophysicist at Nasa said in a blog update.
The astrophysicists in a blog also recommend using a four-inch-or-larger telescope and some filters in the green to the blue range to see Jupiter’s Great Red Spot and bands in more detail.
“The views should be great for a few days before and after September 26. 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 night sky,” he added.