Jupiter was set to make its closest approach to Earth in 59 years on Monday and stargazers were waiting for an excellent view when the giant gas planet reaches “opposition”. The next time Jupiter will come this close will be in 2129.
From the viewpoint of Earth’s surface, opposition happens when an astronomical object rises in the east as the Sun sets in the west, placing the object and the Sun on opposite sides of Earth.
“Stargazers: Jupiter will make its closest approach to Earth in 59 years! Weather-permitting, expect excellent views on September 26. A good pair of binoculars should be enough to catch some details; you’ll need a large telescope to see the Great Red Spot,” NASA tweeted.
Jupiter’s opposition occurs every 13 months, making the planet appear larger and brighter than any other time of the year.
“Jupiter’s closest approach to Earth rarely coincides with opposition, which means this year’s views will be extraordinary,” NASA had said in a statement.
At its closest approach, Jupiter will be approximately 365 million miles in distance from Earth.
The planet is approximately 600 million miles away from Earth at its farthest point.
“With good binoculars, the banding (at least the central band) and three or four of the Galilean satellites (moons) should be visible,” said Adam Kobelski, a research astrophysicist at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.
“It’s important to remember that Galileo observed these moons with 17th century optics. One of the key needs will be a stable mount for whatever system you use,” he noted.
Kobelski recommends a larger telescope to see Jupiter’s Great Red Spot and bands in more detail — a four inch-or-larger telescope and some filters in the green to blue range would enhance the visibility of these features.
According to Kobelski, an ideal viewing location will be at a high elevation in a dark and dry area.
Jupiter has 53 named moons, but scientists believe that 79 have been detected in total.
The four largest moons — Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto — are called the Galilean satellites.
NASA’s Juno spacecraft, which has been orbiting Jupiter for six years, is dedicated to exploring the planet’s surface and its moons.
Scientists believe studying Jupiter can lead to breakthrough discoveries about the formation of the solar system.