Jupiter Closest To Earth This Week And A Splendid Sight

Jupiter and friends as you face east around 9:30 p.m. local time. The Pleiades or Seven Sisters star cluster is about 3 outstretched fists to the lower left of the planet. A fist below it is another star cluster in the shape of the letter V called the Hyades. Further off to the north (left), look for the big "pentagon" of Auriga the Charioteer. Maps created with Stellarium

By now many of you have seen the big, bright, blazing “star” in the eastern sky at nightfall or perhaps noticed it low in the west at dawn. Either way, you’re looking at Jupiter, the brightest planet easily visible in the sky this month. Jupiter owes it brilliance to its giant size (88,000 miles or 11 Earths) and perpetual cloud cover. Like Venus, when we look at Jupiter, we see only clouds and atmosphere. Whatever solid surface this world has is hidden beneath thousands of miles of hydrogen, helium, ammonia and water vapor.

Every 13 months Jupiter and the Earth line up together on the same side of the sun at opposition. This year Jupiter is very near perihelion or closest to the sun around this time. That extra closeness to Earth will make it appear bigger and brighter in the sky than at more distant oppositions. Illustration: Bob King

This Friday evening the 28th Jupiter is at opposition to the sun in the constellation Aries the Ram. When a planet’s at opposition, it lines up with Earth on the same side of the sun. All the outer planets from Jupiter to Neptune reach opposition once a year, when the speedier Earth laps the
slower-orbiting outer planet. As seen from our planet, Jupiter is directly opposite the sun in the sky, rising in the east at the same time the sun sets in the west. It passes due south around 1 a.m. daylight time, when it’s highest in the sky, and then descends in the west, setting at sunrise.

Jupiter photographed on October 22. The two most prominent bands are the South (bottom) and North Equatorial Belts. Also seen are the Great Red Spot and two dark red cyclonic storms in the North belt. Credit: Damian Peach

Not all oppositions are created equal. Because the planets orbit in ellipses with the sun off to one side rather than perfectly concentric circles centered on the sun, Jupiter’s distance from the sun varies around its orbit. At closest, it’s 461 million miles from Sol and 507 million at farthest.

Now it just so happens that Jupiter was at perihelion or closest to the sun this past March. Since Earth is pulling up alongside the planet just 7 months after its perihelion, this opposition will be one of the best ever, with Jupiter blazing at magnitude -2.9, about the same intensity as the International Space Station. That’s not all. Close means big. Jupiter will grow to a diameter of nearly 50 arc seconds or almost 1/30 the size of the full moon. I know that sounds small, but it’s large for a planet, and means you see more detail and color compared to more distant oppositions.

With all that atmosphere to play with, Jupiter’s famous for its colorful and changeable cloud bands. The dark stripes you see in photos and small telescopes are called belts. The North and South Equatorial Belts are thick and dark, making them easy to spy. Separating the belts are the lighter zones. Because the planet is primarily gas and spins rapidly – an entire Jovian day is just under 10 hours long – it bulges noticeably at its equator. Try your hand at seeing this in a small telescope. Once you know what to look for, you’ll might be surprised that Jupiter looks slightly “flattened” instead of spherical. The difference between equatorial and polar diameters is significant – 6,322 miles or 80 percent the size of Earth!

View of Jupiter and its four moons tonight around 9 p.m. CDT as seen in a typical small telescope. South is up and west to the left.

Finally, Jupiter’s four bright moons provide endless fun and interest as they cycle around the planet like a solar system in miniature. Depending how close or far each is from the planet at the time of observation, binoculars will show from one to four moon as tiny stars lined up very close by. Any small telescope magnifying 20x and higher will easily show them all provided they’re not hiding in front of or behind the planet. Medium-sized telescopes from 6-inches and up under steady skies and higher magnifications (200x) will show each moon as a tiny disk.

Comet Elenin fades further as it glides through Gemini and into Auriga today Oct. 26 through Oct. 30. Created with Chris Marriott's SkyMap software

One last note – I was asked for a chart showing where Comet Elenin can be found. Be aware that it’s extremely faint and to my knowledge has been seen by only two expert comet observers. Still you might like to know that Elenin is still there as a faint remnant dust cloud. It travels from Gemini into Auriga this week.

31 Responses

  1. les

    Hey bob…yes jupiter is beaitiful…but my question is this…people been posting ufo videos…can u tell me what this is..

    1. astrobob

      Les,
      I don’t believe in ufos as extraterrestrial spacecraft or visitors. In my opinion, they’re either misinterpreted natural or man-made phenomena or the product of human imagination. I should also add that many are hoaxes.

  2. David

    Hey Bob. On friday are we in any type of danger? Also the reason im asking is because the whole mayan calander ending friday. If you know anything about the mayan calender can you please share what you know i need to calm my heart and stop worrying. Please and Thank You

    1. astrobob

      David,
      Sorry to be blunt, but the Mayan calendar is completely irrelevant to anything happening today except perhaps to the Mayans’ current-day descendents living in Central America. Have you checked what’s been going recently according to the ancient Egyptian and Babylonian calendars? No? Me neither. Calendars are tools for reckoning time and preparing for important events of a cultural and seasonal nature. As far as I know, none can predict unknowable future events – not the Assyrian calendar, the calendar of the Himba people of Namibia, the common Gregorian calendar in use around the world and certainly not the Mayan calendar.

  3. Lisha

    Hey Bob! I love seeing Jupiter at night, the brightest planet in te night sky! To bad I cant see it tonite its been rainy & cloudy all day. As for the ‘ufo’ videos, I have never seen one before & dont plan to! But I agree with you most is man made, Most of those youtube videos are fake! I watched a thing about it on tv of how people use computer technology these days to make those videos. & baloney info like a friend of mine, her friend wrote on there fb page saying ‘ufo by moon just hovering’ so I looked outside & it was the same everynite, until I found this site with good info:) that being said, it was Jupiter all this time! lol & this ‘ufo’ thing was said a few weeks ago, the same thing is said when satellites fly over, some people dont take time to some real research & assume its a UFO.! Thank you Bob for a awesome blog page!

    1. astrobob

      Thank you Lisha, and I’m glad you discovered the truth about Jupiter. All it takes is a bit of good observation and desire to really know what’s out there.

    1. astrobob

      David,
      Rather than try to explain all this myself, please check out this website for answers to your Mayan calendar questions: http://www.2012hoax.org/mayan-prediction
      It’s quite thorough. 2012 is just more of the same Elenin nonsense. That way the people pushing the idea can sell more books, get more youtube hits and be paid for lecture tours. It’s all bunk. Remember the wizard in the Wizard of Oz? Everyone cowered in his presence, but the clever dog Toto pulled the curtain aside and revealed him for who he was – just an ordinary guy with all the usual human foibles. Pull back the curtain on ufos, Elenin earthquakes and 2012 end-of-world predictions and you’ll find … nothing of substance. Will we ever learn?

  4. David

    I do know that the mayans had shorter calenders that have reset. Idk i think what it is. Is that in the world today its so much to worry about that the most devestating sounding thing is to be believed… Most of us humans are gulible and thats the truth. Also if australia is a full 12 hours ahead of us why arent they panicing!? Also i noticed that people across seas dont even know about the whole? mayan prophecy. Why do you think its like this in america?

    1. astrobob

      David,
      I honestly don’t know why things in America are like this. Many people are very dismissive of science despite the fact that it’s crucial to our current life and understanding of nature. I also think the educational standards in some high schools regarding science (biology and evolution in particular) need to be raised. Many, many teachers are wonderful but some kowtow to parents who still consider evolution to be anathema. Some students leave college still not possessing the skills to help them determine what’s bogus and what’s not. It would appear that everyone’s “theory” is as good as the other, which demonstrates a striking lack of critical thinking. Perhaps it’s because so many people are divorced from nature in our time and spend more time staring at a screen — like I’m doing now 🙂 Ha!
      I also think that we’ll always believe in magic and myth — it’s built into us and gives many inner strength — but these beliefs conflict with how knowledge is obtained by the scientific method. And doing real science is hard work, unlike magical thinking (in regard to nature) which doesn’t require work, just speculation combined with conviction.
      Anyone else care to comment?

      1. MBZ

        Goodness. I leave you kids alone for a couple weeks and all hell breaks loose 🙂
        Just returned from Matagorda County on the Texas Gulf Coast. It is SO DARK down there! Jupiter’s moons were naked eye see-able. Only had my binocs along. Would have loved to have a scope.
        Bob, any suggestions for a travel scope?

        “I also think that we’ll always believe in magic and myth — it’s built into us and gives many inner strength — but these beliefs conflict with how knowledge is obtained by the scientific method. And doing real science is hard work, unlike magical thinking (in regard to nature) which doesn’t require work, just speculation combined with conviction.
        Anyone else care to comment?”

        Very well said! Magical thinking (in regard to EVERYTHING) is a strange and unfortunate manifestation of the human brain, and can be so distressing it will cause you to wonder whether you belong on this planet at all… sorta like TV nowadays. Dancing with the Stars ??? Okey Dokey. Mindless pabulum absorption is easy. Thinking and doing is hard, and we wouldn’t want to hurt our widdle gway cells now would we?

        1. astrobob

          MBZ,
          Good question on a travel scope. A 80mm short focal length refractor is pretty ideal because you can use it on a regular camera tripod. Another good, small scope is a 4.5″ reflector.

  5. Good Morning Bob 🙂

    I guess the Mayans had some kind of “daylight leap year”,whre today stands in lieu of next december, according to some previously undeciphered symbols recently discovered “etched” in the sand on the north korean east coast near the DMZ.
    I know this because of a book that came free with the purchase of my brand new igloo. the igloo came with fiber optic internet access, walk out deep freeze and ample parking for my dog sled team.
    i do have some doubts as i’m kind of skeptical by nature but the book is authored by the good people of “Stars” magazine so you know it has to be true.
    the sevret revelationsreveal that the “chosen ones” will be transported to a mobile secret base on the Moon, providing a front seat view of the destruction of the Earth caused by a mass ejection of monoliths coming from Jupiter.
    I’ll understand if you choose not to post this as to not cause panic. after all the book continues on to say that the worthy ones will be taken away without notice. that would mean that some individuals such as you could be sitting in front of your keyboard and all of a sudden, “evaporate” in the middle of a sent

    1. ChristiBrown

      In regards to that book… was it written by the Mayans too??? Because I have it on good authority that Igloos do not need a walk out freezer… Having said this… I want to know why Bob has rings around his collar and why you Mr. Bigfoot don’t use spell and grammar check???

  6. les

    I went outside last night and saw jupiter….it was so beautiful and was positioned right over my head…so bright also it was so clear many other stars seemed so bright… With my phone app i was able to find there names…is vega a bright twinkly star??? And capella… These seems so pretty…with no telescope or anything…just plain looking at them…so awesome…thanks for helping me see that taking a moment to look outside can be so amazing 🙂

  7. David

    I didnt read it al because i dont need more worry. Ive been depressed for the last 3 months and im at the point were every thing bothers me badly. Was he joking?

  8. Milayla

    Lol hi bob I thought the mayan calender was next year Dec? And any who how are you doing bob? And thanks for giving my son links for his project on Pheonix it was great! And he also got an A++ on his solar system project!!

    1. astrobob

      Hi Milayla,
      Glad to help out. Someone decided that the Mayan calendar might also end October 28, which means today will be the end of the world. I hope it doesn’t happen before I make my extra-hot and spicy chili this afternoon. I was really looking forward to that.

  9. Jenn

    Okay so everybody is posting pictures of making eggs stand on end and brooms standing by themselves. Why is that? How does the lining up make it do that?

    1. astrobob

      Hi Jenn,
      Nothing is lining up and even if it were, it wouldn’t effect eggs. You can making an egg stand on end anytime of year. This is just silly stuff. Brooms, too. Just about every year at the spring equinox (March 20), this egg thing comes up, but Earth’s axis isn’t aligned differently than at other times of year.

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