Jupiter Will Loom so Big and Bright This Weekend, You'll Be Able to See It No Matter Where You Are
The gas giant is at its brightest and best this week and throughout June and July.
Stargazing in a city is not easy, but planet-spotting? That’s easy. Light pollution can make stars very hard to see from urban areas, but wherever you are in the world this week you’ll be able to see Jupiter, the fifth planet from the sun, shining brightly. By far the largest in the solar system, the gas giant planet swings into view this weekend for everyone on Earth.
Why is this the best time to see Jupiter?
On Monday, June 10, Jupiter and Earth will be as close as they ever get (about 640.9 million kilometers), so the giant planet appears brighter than usual because it’s fully illuminated by the sun. It will also be visible from dusk until dawn. This situation is called “opposition,” and it’s when Earth is between Jupiter and the sun, which only happens once each year because of the different time it takes for both planets to orbit the Sun. Jupiter takes 12 years to orbit, so it moves through the constellations relatively slowly. This year Jupiter is in the constellation of Ophiuchus, pronounced "off-you-cuss” (the unlucky "13th" constellation that technically makes modern astrology rather awkward).
How can you make sure you see it?
There are some great ways to appreciate Jupiter when it’s at its brightest. The first is to look to the south-east at dusk and see the giant planet shining brightly as it gets dark. If you’re near the ocean or a lake, you can catch the bright light from Jupiter reflecting off the water. However, if you want to see Jupiter’s massive pink cloud bands (and perhaps even its famous "great red spot" ancient storm), get yourself to a public observatory or star party. In the Hollywood Hills in Los Angeles the Griffith Observatory will host a free public star party on Saturday, June 8 from 2–9:45 p.m. Volunteers from the Los Angeles Astronomical Society, the Los Angeles Sidewalk Astronomers, and The Planetary Society will all have Jupiter in their telescopes. Griffith Observatory also has a free Sunset Walk & Talk from 7:50–8:50 p.m. on Wednesday, June 12 that will almost certainly include Jupiter.
In New York City, the Amateur Astronomers Association is holding observing sessions in the Bronx on Wednesday, June 12 and Thursday, June 13 from 8 p.m.
How to see Jupiter's moons
Although looking at Jupiter through a large telescope is a rare treat, all you actually need is any pair of binoculars to see the remarkable sight of four moons around Jupiter. Strung out either side of the giant planet and appearing as surprisingly bright dots, it’s relatively easy to spot Ganymede, Calisto, Io, and the ice-covered Europa, which is thought to have an ocean that might just host some kind of life. That’s something for future NASA missions to find out, but for now, you can marvel at all four Galilean moons with relative ease.
When is Jupiter next at opposition?
Since it takes slightly longer than 12 years to orbit the sun, the date of Jupiter’s opposition as seen from Earth shifts forward by about a month every year. Jupiter will next be at opposition on July 14, 2020. However, another date for your celestial calendar is Dec. 21, 2020, which just so happens to be the date of both the solstice and a rare “Great Conjunction” that will see Jupiter and Saturn appear very, very close together just after sunset.
You’ll have to wait for that extra-special planetary "kiss," but Jupiter is there for you now in all its glory.