Jupiter fans are in for a treat Monday night when our solar system’s largest planet makes its closest approach to Earth simultaneously at opposition, providing the perfect opportunity to see the gas giant in the night sky.
In terms of space, Jupiter will be close to Earth all night Monday, reaching about 367 million miles from our home planet. This is about 300 million miles closer than when it’s at its farthest point from Earth.
What makes Monday’s Jupiter viewing so unique is that at the same time, the planet will be in opposition when Jupiter and the sun are on opposite sides of Earth.
According to NASA, opposition rarely happens at the same time as Jupiter’s closest approach. The last time it did was in 1963.
The best way to view Jupiter’s close-up will be with a pair of binoculars or a telescope. If clear skies are not in your forecast on Sept. 26, Jupiter will also appear larger in the days before and after opposition.
With a larger telescope, some of the planet’s features can be seen in more detail, including its bands and the more than 100-year-old swirling storm that makes up the Great Red Spot.
The Great Red Spot has been observed for at least 150 years but could be even older.
Jupiter has some of the most fascinating weather in the solar system.
Its most notable feature, the Great Red Spot, is a swirling storm twice the size of Earth that has been going on for more than a century. Rotating once every 10 hours, Jupiter is covered in winds and jet streams moving up to 335 miles per hour near the equator.
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Jupiter’s powerful magnetic field creates aurora lights as we see on Earth but at both the planet’s poles.
The gas giant has more than 53 moons, and you might be surprised to know the planet also has rings. The James Webb Space Telescope recently used its NIRCam instrument to show Jupiter’s rings in never-before-seen clarity.
Its largest moons are known as the Galilean satellites, Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto.
According to NASA, the large moons can appear as bright dots on either side of the planet during opposition.
Jupiter cannot host life of any kind, but NASA plans to explore some of its moons believed to contain global oceans. A future robotic mission to the moon Europa will look for signatures of life in the moon’s ocean underneath its icy crust.
NASA’s Juno spacecraft is the most recent robotic explorer to visit Jupiter and will continue to orbit the planet until at least 2025.