Jupiter will come within its closest point of Earth in nearly sixty years today, giving an excellent opportunity for amateur stargazers to see the largest planet in the solar system.
The gas giant will come within 590 million kilometres of Earth on September 26. At its furthest, Jupiter it is almost twice as far from our planet.
Adam Kobelski from NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in the US says the four largest moons orbiting the planet – Ganymede, Europa, Io and Callisto – will also be visible.
“The views should be great for a few days before and after September 26,” says Kobelski, who is a research astrophysicist.
“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.”
Channel your inner Galileo and watch Jupiter this week
Jupiter has been known to humans as a bright light in the sky since time immemorial, but Galileo Galilei was the first to observe the giant planet in detail with an early telescope in 1610.
Recently, the DART spacecraft joined the list of machines snapping Jupiter when it sent its own pictures back to Earth prior to a scheduled collision with a nearby asteroid on Tuesday morning (Australian time).
Weather permitting, amateurs will be able to do as Galileo did this week with even a good quality pair of binoculars enough to observe Jupiter and its four moons.
Jupiter will be ‘in opposition’ to the Sun and Earth, meaning as the sun sets in the west, Jupiter will be rising in the east.
For those viewing with the naked eye, you’ll likely see Jupiter and its moons appear as very bright lights in the sky.
A pair of 7x magnification binoculars would show the planet as a small disc against the blackness of space.
And NASA says a four-inch refracting telescope would be sufficient to capture Jupiter in some level of detail, but you may still only see a blurry, red-orange dot, depending on telescope quality, sky and weather conditions.
“With good binoculars, the banding – at least the central band – and three or four of the Galilean satellites [moons] should be visible,” says Kobelski.
“The views should be great for a few days before and after September 26.
“One of the key needs will be a stable mount for whatever system you use.”
Matthew Agius is a science writer for Cosmos Magazine.
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