How you can spot Jupiter tonight as it comes closest to Earth in nearly 60 years

Shola Lee

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How you can spot Jupiter tonight as it comes closest to Earth in nearly 60 years

Featured Image Credit: Shutterstock/Abaca Press/Alamy Stock Photo

Much to the delight of stargazers far and wide, Jupiter is set to be visible in the sky tonight as it comes the closest it's been to Earth in 59 years.

That's right! As this evening (Monday 26 September), Jupiter will be in opposition, which will make the planet appear brighter and larger than unusual.

"Outside of the Moon, it should be one of the brightest objects in the night sky," explained NASA astrophysicist Adam Kobelski, and we couldn't be more excited.

Our solar system's biggest planet hasn't been this close to the Earth since 1963. And if you're wondering why that is, NASA explained on their blog: "Earth and Jupiter do not orbit the Sun in perfect circles – meaning the planets will pass each other at different distances throughout the year."

Jupiter is the solar system's biggest planet. Credit: dotted zebra/Alamy Stock Photo
Jupiter is the solar system's biggest planet. Credit: dotted zebra/Alamy Stock Photo

Not only do the planets rarely get close, but opposition - the phenomenon that makes the planet look bigger and brighter - only occurs every 13 months and rarely coincides with two planets passing close together.

For anyone wondering, opposition occurs when one astronomical object, in this instance Jupiter, rises in the east and the sun sets in the west, putting them on opposite sides of the Earth.

Tonight, the planet will be 367 million miles from Earth, the same distance as it was in 1963.

And it shouldn't be too hard to see, with Kobelski explaining: "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."

It's an event that the NASA researcher urged people not to miss: "The views should be great for a few days before and after Sept. 26. So, take advantage of good weather on either side of this date to take in the sight."

Jupiter has long been a subject of intrigue for NASA, with the space agency sending its Juno spacecraft to orbit the planet in 2011.

It eventually reached the planet five years later in 2016 - yep, that's how far away it is - and provided images and data about the planet's atmosphere.

Jupiter hasn't been this close to earth since 1963. Credit: Shaun Cunningham/Alamy Stock Photo
Jupiter hasn't been this close to earth since 1963. Credit: Shaun Cunningham/Alamy Stock Photo

Scientists are keen to delve into the depths of Jupiter to better understand how the solar system formed.

It's also hoped that the upcoming Europa Clipper, which is set to study one of Jupiter's most famous moons, Europa, in the hopes that it might be able to sustain life.

So, get ready to look up at the sky tonight and catch a glimpse of the solar system's biggest planet.

If you have a story you want to tell, send it to UNILAD via [email protected] 

Topics: News, NASA, Life, Space, Technology

Shola Lee
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