This is good news for amateur astrophotographers and space enthusiasts in our region, because tomorrow the largest planet in our solar system will be the largest and most visible it has seen with the naked eye in 59 years.
Starting this weekend you’ll be able to see Jupiter in all its glory due to the coincidence that two celestial events have happened simultaneously as it will be the brightest object in the night sky alongside the moon.
With parts of the region designated as prime stargazing spots, including the Shropshire Hills, this is the perfect opportunity for Star readers to become stargazers.
Below is everything you need to know to see the king of the solar system succeed.
Jupiter’s distance from Earth is constantly changing because both planets follow an elliptical orbit around the sun.
When it is furthest, Jupiter is more than 600 million miles away. At its closest point, the distance from Earth to Jupiter is only 365 million miles, making it appear very bright in the sky.
The gas giant normally comes closest to Earth about every 12 years. This weekend it’s about 367 million miles from Earth, which is obviously very close.
But something else happened that makes this Monday very special.
Reaches Jupiter on Monday opposition. This means the planet is on one side of the earth opposite the sun, giving a very clear, nicely framed image.
Jupiter is obviously visible now and has kept amateur astronomers busy all September, but Monday should offer the most spectacular views from our region (under clear skies) from sunset to Tuesday sunrise.
Alone, Jupiter comes into opposition fairly regularly — about every 13 months, but coincidentally, the king of the solar system has also been closest to Earth for decades.
This makes the planet spectacularly visible.
To put these two overlapping events into perspective, opposition and rapprochement will reportedly not happen together again until about the middle of the next century.
Weather permitting, you can see Jupiter without a telescope or astronomy equipment.
It will essentially look like the brightest star in the sky, but it won’t twinkle. It is best to find a place without artificial light.
According to BBC Science Focus, “A decent pair of binoculars (7x to 10x magnification) will give you a view of Jupiter’s four largest moons, Ganymede, Europa, Callisto and Io, and a telescope will allow you to see Jupiter’s stripes.”
Those with the right gear will be able to snap incredible photos of the planet, as many have done this month.
Amateur and professional astronomers and astrophotographers will likely be able to find the planet by tracing the stars, as Jupiter is reportedly due to rise in the constellation Pisces in the eastern sky.
However, the best choice for those who are trying this for the first time or have limited knowledge is to download an astronomy app on your mobile phone.
These are able to accurately map the night sky because our phones know the time and date and therefore know what’s going on in space. They use other features of the device to create a real-time map of the sky.
All you have to do is point it up and it will tell you what you see.
According to the Met Office, Monday will be a “windy day with a mix of sunshine and scattered showers. A little colder when exposed to the wind. Maximum temperature 15°C.”
Hopefully the sun’s rays will be enough to burn away the cloud and create a clear night for observing Jupiter.
NASA’s Juno spacecraft, which has been studying Jupiter up close, will come within just 222 miles of the planet’s icy moon Europa on Thursday (29th).
It’s expected to capture some incredibly high-resolution images of the surface and collect valuable scientific data on the mysterious moon.
You can read more about the final phase of Juno’s mission HERE.
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