On September 26, Jupiter be closer to Earth than it has come in the last 59 years which combines with the gas giant’s opposition, which should result in spectacular views.
During their orbit around the sun, sometimes Earth finds itself directly between the Sun and one of the other planets in the Solar System. When this happens, that is known as “in opposition.” Jupiter’s opposition takes place every 13 months, which makes it appear larger and brighter in the sky than at any other point in its orbit. This already presents a great opportunity for observation or astrophotography, but this year it will combine with a particularly close orbit, which is a far rarer event.
This year, Jupiter will be in opposition to Earth on September 26 which also happens to coincide with the planet’s closest approach to Earth since 1963. Because Jupiter and Earth orbit each other in different shapes, this is because they do not circle the Sun in perfectly circular circles. This means that when the planets are in opposition, they pass at different distances.
The massive planet is approximately 600 million miles away from Earth at the farthest point in its orbit, but during this one window, it will be much closer: about 367 million miles away.
NASA expects that the combination of Jupiter’s opposition and its close distance will give stargazers spectacular views of the gas giant, a celestial circumstance that hasn’t taken place in nearly 60 years.
“With good binoculars the banding (at minimum the central band), and three to four of the Galilean Satellites (moons), should be visible,” Adam Kobelski (a NASA research astrophysicist based in Huntsville, Alabama) says.
“It’s important to remember that Galileo observed these moons with 17th-century optics. A stable mount
is a key requirement. Those with bigger telescopes will be better able to see Jupiter’s Great Red Spot and its band. NASA states that these features can be seen better with a telescope of at least four inches and filters in the green-blue range.
“The views should be great for a few days before and after Sept. 26,” Kobelski adds. “So, take advantage of good weather on either side of this date to take in the sight. Outside of the Moon, it should be one of the (if not the) brightest objects in the night sky.”
Header image: This photo of Jupiter, taken from the Hubble Space Telescope on June 27, 2019, features the Great Red Spot, a storm the size of Earth that has been raging for hundreds of years. NASA, ESA and M.H. Credits: NASA. Wong (University of California, Berkeley)