By Amarin TV and Georgia Public Broadcasting
LOOK UP at the sky on Tuesday Sept. 27 night to see the gas giant Jupiter at its closest to Earth in 59 years and it will be particularly visible because this coincides with another event called opposition.
When in opposition, a planet is on the opposite side of Earth from the sun, so you could draw a straight line from the sun to Earth to Jupiter, all in alignment. Jupiter’s opposition happens every 13 months. Looking from the Earth, when the sun sets in the west, Jupiter will rise in the east, directly opposite. During opposition, planets appear at their biggest and brightest.
Separately, Jupiter is coming closer to Earth than it has since 1963. Because of Earth’s and Jupiter’s differing orbits around the sun, they don’t pass each other at the same distance each time. When it’s closest on Tuesday night, Jupiter will be about 590 million kilometres (367 million miles) from Earth, according to NASA. At its farthest, it’s 965 million kilometres (600 million miles) away.
The result of both is that the views may be somewhat better than normal.
National Astronomical Research Institute of Thailand (NARIT) said in its Facebook page today that Jupiter will appear very bright in the east and visible to the naked eye in all regions of Thailand all night till dawn if the sky is clear and cloudless.
Looking through a telescope with a diameter of four inches and a magnification of 30 times stargazers will also be able to see Jupiter’s cloud belts and its four brightest moons – Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto.
That night they will also get a chance to see Io passing in front of Jupiter from 9.48 p.m.till 00.04 a.m. with Saturn appearing bright next to Jupiter to the west as well.
An observation event is taking place to see Jupiter at its nearest to the Earth through telescopes at four places with these being Sirindhorn Astronomical Park, Mae Rim district, Chiang Mai province; and the Chaloem Phrakiat Observatory for the 7th Cycle Birthday Anniversary at Nakhon Ratchasima, Chachoengsao and Songkhla provinces from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. free of charge.
NARIT together with 560 schools in its network have also set up telescopes for the public to view this celestial phenomenon.
People can also watch it live via NARIT Facebook page from 7 p.m. onwards.
“Jupiter is so bright and brilliant that a really nice thing about it is even in a city, in the middle of a bright city, you can see it,” says Alphonse Sterling, a NASA astrophysicist at the Marshall Space Flight Centre in Huntsville, Alabama. “So I would say that it’s a good thing to take advantage of and to look at no matter where you’re at.”
He mentions that Jupiter is always easily visible in the night sky as long as it’s not near the sun and that it might be hard for a casual observer to notice any difference in size.
If you don’t have a telescope, you’ll need a way to hold binoculars very steady to get a good view. Sterling says he used a ledge.
“I could definitely see the moons, you know, off to the side of Jupiter looking like little stars,” he says. “So that’s a fun thing that can be done. And that’s certainly easier now than it would be if Jupiter’s at its furthest.”
The Galilean satellites are among Jupiter’s 53 named moons, though scientists have found 79 in total.
A month ago, NASA released new images of Jupiter and its moons taken by the James Webb Space Telescope. Additionally, NASA’s Juno spacecraft has been providing excellent images since it began orbiting Jupiter six years ago.
The next time Jupiter will come this close will be in 2129.
Top: Jupiter is set to make a rare close pass by Earth while also reaching “opposition,” meaning stargazers will have a stunning view on Tuesday night. Photo: Getty Images and published by News Nation (newsnationnew.com)
First insert and Front Page: A view of Jupiter’s Great Red Spot and turbulent southern hemisphere was captured by NASA’s Juno spacecraft in 2019. Credit: Georgia Public Broadcasting
Second insert: NASA’s Juno spacecraft took this image in 2016 at a distance of 6.8 million miles from Jupiter. The planet’s moons Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto are also visible. Credit: Georgia Public Broadcasting