Jupiter will appear bigger and brighter than usual on Monday night as it rises opposite the Sun and reaches its the closest point to the Earth decades later. It will be so close that the planet’s streaks and several of its moons should be visible, NASA said.
The gas giant will become visible when it reaches opposition, meaning it rises in the east as the sun sets in the west, which happens every 13 months. Tonight will also mark Jupiter’s closest approach to Earth since 1963 – which NASA says is a unique event that will make it extra special.
At its closest point, the planet will be about 367 million miles from Earth, about 200 million miles closer than when it is at its furthest point.
“Jupiter’s closest approach to Earth rarely coincides with opposition,” NASA said, “which means the views this year will be extraordinary.”
These spectacular views are expected to be vivid and detailed, scientists say.
“In good binoculars, the band (at least the central band) and three or four Galilean satellites (satellites) should be visible,” said NASA research astrophysicist Adam Kabelsky.
The planet has 53 named moons, although scientists believe 79 have been discovered. The four largest moons are known as the Galilean moons, named after Galileo Galilei, who first observed them.
“It’s important to remember that Galileo observed these satellites using 17th-century optics,” Kabelsky said. “One of the key needs will be a stable mount for whatever system you’re using.”
The best places to see Jupiter will be from high elevations where it’s dark and dry, Kabelsky said, and it should be visible for the next few days.
“Take advantage of the good weather either side of this date to enjoy the spectacle,” he said. “Apart from the Moon, it has to be one of (if not the) brightest objects in the night sky.”