Jupiter will be the brightest star in the sky this week as it makes its closest pass of Earth for 59 years – here’s where to look in Australia
- Jupiter to be seen in Australian skies on Tuesday, the closest its been since 1963
- It will be sitting opposite the sun, with NASA saying view will be ‘extraordinary’
- The Earth will also be at its closest to the massive planet, making it more visible
- It can be viewed in the east at sunset, west in the morning and above us at night
Jupiter will be brighter and bigger in night skies as it swings by our planet at the closest distance it has been in 59 years.
Australians will be able to see the largest planet up close in the coming weeks, with Tuesday being one of the best days to view the vast gas planet provided skies are clear.
Midnight will be the best time to see it sitting above the continent but dusk and dawn will also offer better-than-usual views.
At sunset it is best to look at the horizon facing away from the sun, while at sunrise you can see it if you look west with your back to the rising sun.
The massive planet (pictured, with its famous ‘Red Spot’) is 591million km away from Earth and not since October 1963 have stargazers had such a great opportunity to spot it in the night sky
Jupiter will still be 591million km away from Earth but not since October 1963 have stargazers had such a great opportunity to spot it in the night sky.
Queensland astrophysics professor Jonti Horner told ABC the gas planet is rising at Earth’s sunset and setting at sunrise – an event that happens every 13 months.
This is when it appears the largest and brightest than any other time in the year.
‘At that time, the Earth is at its closest to Jupiter for that year — so we’d describe that as Earth making its closest approach to Jupiter,’ Professor Horner said.
‘However, not all close approaches are equal, some are closer than others.’
Jupiter and Earth are on a trajectory around the sun that is not always precisely circular (pictured, a rough illustration of the size of Earth compared to Jupiter)
Jupiter and Earth are on a pathway around the sun that is not always precisely circular.
Now the Earth is at its nearest to Jupiter, while the massive gas ball is at its closest to the sun.
The overlap of the two events, which will not take place again until 2139, will make the gas planet appear brighter and larger in the sky.
On Tuesday it will reach ‘opposition’ – which is when the planet will appear opposite the sun to those on Earth.
The planet’s closest approach to Earth hardly ever coincides with opposition, which means this year’s views will be ‘extraordinary,’ according to NASA.
However, Jupiter will appear slightly bigger and brighter for the next few weeks.
Although it is one of the few planets that can be seen with the naked eye, NASA still recommends using some type of telescopic instrument to view it
Jupiter will be directly above Australia at midnight and should be visible throughout the night, as long as there is no cloud cover or bright lights (pictured, a snap of the planet taken by the Juno spacecraft in 2019)
Professor Horner said the planet will be in the darkest part of the sky, where there are less bright stars.
‘That makes it even more pronounced … there’s nothing to rival Jupiter,’ Professor Horner said.
He added it will be directly above Australia at midnight and should be visible throughout the night, as long as there is no cloud cover or bright lights.
Jupiter should be visible in the next few months on a fainter scale.
It can be seen at sunset when people look to the east and at sunrise to the west.
Professor Horner said the planet will be in the darkest part of the sky, where there are less bright stars
Although it is one of the few planets that can be seen with the naked eye, NASA still recommends using some type of telescopic instrument to view it.
A four-inch or larger telescope would allow observers to see Jupiter’s Great Red Spot and bands in more detail.
The red spot is a century’s old storm system that is large enough to swallow the Earth.
Jupiter has fascinated astronomers since its discovery in 1610 by Galileo Galilei with a small telescope he designed.
It is 69,911km in radius, while Earth’s equatorial radius is 6,378 km, so if Earth were the size of a grape, Jupiter would be the size of a basketball.
Jupiter: the fifth planet from the sun
Jupiter has 75 moons and is the Solar System’s largest planet.
The planet is 591million km away from Earth.
If Earth were the size of a grape, Jupiter would be the size of a basketball.
It’s radius is 69,911 km.
Jupiter rotates once about every 10 hours (a Jovian day), but takes about 12 Earth years to complete one orbit of the Sun (a Jovian year).
It is a gas giant and so lacks an Earth-like surface. If it has a solid inner core at all, it’s likely only about the size of Earth.
Jupiter’s atmosphere is made up mostly of hydrogen (H2) and helium (He).
In 1979 the Voyager mission discovered Jupiter’s faint ring system. All four giant planets in our solar system have ring systems.
Nine spacecraft have visited Jupiter. Seven flew by and two have orbited the gas giant. Juno, the most recent, arrived at Jupiter in 2016.
Jupiter cannot support life as we know it. But some of Jupiter’s moons have oceans beneath their crusts that might support life.
Jupiter’s Great Red Spot is a gigantic storm that’s about twice the size of Earth and has raged for over a century.
Jupiter is so starkly different from what Earth-dwellers consider to be normal.
Between its incredible size, mass, composition, the mysteries of its magnetic and gravitational fields, and its impressive system of moons, its existence has shown us just how diverse planets can be.
Ever since Galileo Galilei first observed Jupiter closely in 1610 using a telescope of his own design, scientists and astronomers have been immensely fascinated by the Jovian planet.
Source: NASA Science and Universe Today
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