Jupiter will reach its closest point to Earth in 59 years tonight

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Tonight marks one of the most anticipated events of the year for astronomers and sky watchers. Jupiter will be in a rare ideal viewing position, reaching its closest point to the last Earth since 1963. Starting at 21:00 (CEST), the planet will be simultaneously at opposition (in front of the Sun in the sky). and at its closest distance to Earth in its revolution. It will be so close that it will even be observable with the naked eye. Its four main natural satellites will be seen using a simple pair of binoculars. People with very good binoculars or a semi-professional telescope will be able to observe the long white bands that cross the surface of the planet, as well as its characteristic great red spot. For a few days, Jupiter will be the brightest celestial object in the sky, after the Moon.

Jupiter comes into opposition approximately every 13 months. At this time, the planet appears much larger and brighter in the sky than at any time of year, rising in the east as the Sun sets in the west (hence the term “opposition”). But this week will be truly exceptional, as the gas giant found itself in a configuration it hasn’t been in since 1963, with an opposition that rarely coincides with the closest point: 367 million kilometers from Earth. Like those of all the other planets in the Solar System, its elliptical orbit allows it to approach and cross (or move away from) its brothers during its revolution around the Sun. Its distance from Earth varies, therefore, between 367 and 600 million kilometers .

Jupiter will be the brightest object in the sky this week (after the Moon) and it will be located in an area of ​​the night sky where there will be relatively few stars. Also, after the last new moon, the sky is darker than usual. ” The view should be great for a few days before and after September 26. “, declares in a release Adam Kobelski, a research astrophysicist at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, USA.

How to observe it?

Although it will be visible all night for several days, the best time to observe Jupiter will be around midnight, when the night sky will be most “neutral.” The ideal is to get away from the city to avoid as much as possible the pollution sparkly. Then all that remains is to hope that the weather is good. If you want to see it at sunset, just stand with your back to the Sun and look at the horizon.

To observe the gas giant you do not need professional equipment, because it will be so bright that the naked eye could be mistaken for an airplane. With a simple pair of binoculars placed on a stable stand, the star will appear more like a luminous disk around which we can see its four main natural satellites (Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto), the same ones that Galileo had first observed. time in 1610 with a simple astronomical telescope. During the nights after the event, it will be possible to observe the change in position of these moons.

Namely, Jupiter has a total of 79 known moons, and only 53 of them have been named. Its four largest are called Galileans in honor of Galileo, the first to observe them. Completing a full orbit around the gas giant in just a few days, these four satellites will appear as bright spots on either side of the planet during opposition.

With powerful binoculars or a semi-professional telescope, it will be possible to see the atmospheric bands as well as the Great Red Spot of Jupiter. ” With good binoculars the bands (at least the central band) and three or four of the Galilean satellites should be visible Kobelski says. Visibility is even better with a telescope equipped with filters ranging from green to blue.

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