Jupiter closest this week, not again until 2022

https://i1.wp.com/spaceweather.com/swpod2010/19sep10/Alan-Friedman3.jpg

Been outside at midnight lately? There’s something you really need to see. Jupiter is approaching Earth for the closest encounter between the two planets in more than a decade–and it is dazzling.

The night of closest approach is Sept. 20-21st. This is also called “the night of opposition” because Jupiter will be opposite the sun, rising at sunset and soaring overhead at midnight. Among all denizens of the midnight sky, only the Moon itself will be brighter.

Close Encounter with Jupiter (Tama Ladanyi, 550px)

Science@NASA reader Tamas Ladanyi took this picture of a friend photographing Jupiter over a lake in the Bakony mountains of Hungary on Sept. 5th. “The giant planet was remarkably bright,” says Ladanyi. [larger image]

Earth-Jupiter encounters happen every 13 months when the Earth laps Jupiter in their race around the sun. But because Earth and Jupiter do not orbit the sun in perfect circles, they are not always the same distance apart when Earth passes by. On Sept. 20th, Jupiter will be as much as 75 million km closer than previous encounters and will not be this close again until 2022.

The view through a telescope is excellent. Because Jupiter is so close, the planet’s disk can be seen in rare detail–and there is a lot to see. For instance, the Great Red Spot, a cyclone twice as wide as Earth, is bumping up against another storm called “Red Spot Jr.” The apparition of two planet-sized tempests grinding against one another must be seen to be believed.

Close Encounter with Jupiter (Alan Friedman, 200px)

Jupiter’s “kissing red spots” photographed by Alan Friedman of Buffalo, NY, using a 10-inch telescope. The full-sized image shows the golden disk of Jupiter’s moon Io.

Also, Jupiter’s trademark South Equatorial Belt (SEB) recently vanished, possibly submerging itself beneath high clouds. Researchers say it could reappear at any moment. The dramatic resurgence would be accompanied by a globe-straddling profusion of spots and cloudy swirls, clearly visible in backyard telescopes.

And what was that flash? Amateur astronomers have recently reported a surprising number of fireballs in Jupiter’s atmosphere. Apparently, many small asteroids or comet fragments are hitting the giant planet and exploding among the clouds. Researchers who have studied these events say visible flashes could be occurring as often as a few times a month.

Finally, we mustn’t forget the moons of Jupiter because they are also having a close encounter with Earth. These are planet-sized worlds with active volcanoes (Io), possible underground oceans (Europa), vast fields of craters (Callisto), and mysterious global grooves (Ganymede). When Galileo discovered the moons 400 years ago, they were no more than pinpricks of light in his primitive spy glass. Big, modern amateur telescopes reveal actual planetary disks with colorful markings.

It makes you wonder, what would Galileo think?

Answer: “I’m getting up at midnight!”
Author: Dr. Tony Phillips | Credit: Science@NASA

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Bonus: Coincidentally, the planet Uranus is also at opposition on Sept. 21st. On that night it will travel across the sky alongside Jupiter, although not nearly so bright. Being almost three times smaller and five times farther away than Jupiter, Uranus is barely visible to the naked eye. It looks great, however, through a small telescope. Just point your optics at Jupiter and you will find emerald Uranus less than 1o away.

Dedication: The author dedicates this story to Jack Horkheimer, executive director of Miami’s Space Transit Planetarium, who died on August 20, 2010. Jack was an icon of astronomy outreach. His weekly reports on the night sky, broadcast by PBS since 1976, reached millions of people and often influenced the narrative of Science@NASA stories. Even this story, published after Jack’s death, contains some of his words. Thanks, Jack, and “Keep Looking Up!”

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43 thoughts on “Jupiter closest this week, not again until 2022

  1. Of course with the weather – sorry, climate disruption – the way it is here the only thing I’m going to see is rain. Rather more Lunar than Jovian, I fear…

  2. That explains the extra spring in my step! I wonder, if I jump real high on a trampoline, will I attain orbit?

  3. Archonix says: Of course with the weather – sorry, climate disruption – the way it is here the only thing I’m going to see is rain. Rather more Lunar than Jovian, I fear…

    Jupiter Pluvius was the Roman god of rain and thunder. Not a very jovial sort.

  4. Here in “clear as a bell ” Canberra we have been treated to 5 planets in the sky at once. Venus, Mars and Saturn setting as Jupiter and Uranus rising. Oh and throw in a 3/4 moon. Most spectacular.

  5. I saw Jupiter rising when I was camping over Labor day. I could make out 4 moons with just my binoculars. It was quite thrilling.

  6. And what was that flash? Amateur astronomers have recently reported a surprising number of fireballs in Jupiter’s atmosphere. Apparently, many small asteroids or comet fragments are hitting the giant planet and exploding among the clouds.

    It’s 2010. Those are the incoming monoliths.

  7. Raining like a cow urinating on a flat rock right now in NE Oregon. I fondly remember Jupiter fooling a young pilot(me) into thinking it was a landing light of an aircraft…

  8. I had posted about this event ( linking to WUWT ) on a popular forum. One of the responses discussed an app they had loaded on their cell phone which helps locate celestial bodies in the sky. I really enjoy hi-tech devices, gadgets, and toys. On the other hand I am old, and, I admit being so. Anyway, one of the handy items I have hanging around does just what the mentioned phone app does…. and the battery never goes dead. That is a Philips Revolving Orrery ….

  9. I’ve noticed also that Orion has parked it’s self in the south eastern sky, when I head for work at 5:30 am. This means that winter cannot be far off!

  10. The other night, I saw what was obviously a very bright planet. I was surprised as to how bright it was, and I guessed that it was Venus but it must have been Jupiter. Hopefully tomorrow night will be clear and I will be out with the binoculars.

  11. Alas! Here in Washington —on the west side of the Cascades— it rains, ALL the time. RAIN! RAIN! RAIN!

    Did I mention that it rains here, all the time?

    :o)

    It’s cloudy forever, drizzles endlessly, and we have a saying: ‘Warsh-a-tonians don’t tan, we rust!’

    Fat chance of seeing ol’ Jupe in these parts …

    So, without further adieu, I’m going outside to get my daily ‘rust job.’

    Ciao!

  12. richard verney said:

    “The other night, I saw what was obviously a very bright planet. I was surprised as to how bright it was, and I guessed that it was Venus but it must have been Jupiter. Hopefully tomorrow night will be clear and I will be out with the binoculars.”

    If you saw it shortly after sunset in the western sky, it was Venus. If you saw it early in the night in the eastern sky or any time late at night, it was definitely Jupiter. Venus is typically noticeably brighter than Jupiter, although Jupiter can be pretty impressive as well. One quick way to distinguish Jupiter from Venus (doesn’t always work, but is relevant now) is the distance from the Sun. Being an inner planet with a smaller orbit, Venus can never get very far from the Sun. So if what you saw was far from the Sun (for example in the eastern sky shortly after the Sun set in the west), it cannot have been Venus.

    Enjoy the view!

  13. “Amateur astronomers have recently reported a surprising number of fireballs in Jupiter’s atmosphere.”

    That’s rather amazing in itself. Asteroids or comets that have even a small amount of transverse velocity relative to Jupiter cannot actually hit Jupiter but will form a temporary orbit with Jupiter, elliptic or hyperbolic, with Jupiter as a focus at it’s momentary position. That means these objects hitting Jupiter must have a very special trajectory indeed to do this. That is curious. Maybe some astronomers will enlighten us later how this is occurring.

    On the other hand, if these unfortunate objects are merely crossing Jupiter’s near orbit at the right moment and are just “in the way”, Jupiter will oblige, they’re toast.

  14. The full-sized image shows the golden disk . . .

    When I went to the link –

    Firefox flashed an “untrusted connection” message and said “science.nasa.gov uses an invalid security certificate. The certificate is not trusted because the issuer certificate is unknown.” What kind of world is it when you can’t trust NASA?

    I do wonder why they need a secure server for planet photos, though.

  15. My Astronomy Australia 2010 fills in the details.

    Jupiter will present on the 21st with an equatorial diameter of 50 arcseconds, only surpassed by Venus in size when near conjunction. At magnitude – 2.9 Jupiter is a half a magnitude brighter than at a poor opposition. Jupiter has been in retrograde motion, moving towards Uranus, being 1deg apart from 12th to the 25th opening up again to 1.3deg by the end of the month.
    Get out to view soon, as the full moon ( at apogee on the 21st at 406,165km) will be near Jupiter on the 23rd.
    Also, the spring equinox is on the 23rd for eastern Australia at 3:09 pm EST. A time when both hemispheres are equal in day length, and if you are lost, then the sun rises and sets precisely east – west.

  16. Might try taking my telescope to work to have a look during my break at about midnight although with the UK weather it may be too cloudy, but here’s hoping.

  17. I’m currently on an oil rig offshore Malaysia 4 degrees north of the equator and Jupiter is in the zenith at midnight and very impressive.

    Jupiter orbits the sun every 11.9 years or so and Saturn in 29.5 years. Every 11 years or so they are either very close together in the sky, such as in 1999, or on opposite sides of the sky, such as this year. So every 22 years they come back to the same relative positions.

    Hmmm? 11 years? 22 years? Where have I heard these numbers before?….

  18. Clear as a bell here in the Northern Hemisphere. Took a look at 5am with plain old 10x binoculars and Jupiter is gigantic with both Callisto and Ganymede clearly visible to the bottom right (5 on the clock position).

    Mounted telescope is far better of course, but if you brace yourself solidly even binos are ok.

    And slightly to the upper right I think I could see Uranus.

    (that was serious, not a crack. Neither was that last one! ;-)

  19. 899 says:
    September 19, 2010 at 7:49 pm

    Alas! Here in Washington —on the west side of the Cascades— it rains, ALL the time. RAIN! RAIN! RAIN!

    Trotting out the old myth again eh? While it is overcast most of the time in Fall and Winter, Spring and Summer are mostly clear here in Western Washington. You don’t get better summers than here.

    However, fall has decided to come early, and it’s been rainy and overcast for about a week now, with a few cloudbreaks now and then.

  20. The thunderbolt nature of Jupiter was confirmed when it was found that it provokes volcanic activity on its satellite Io, with a power of more than three million amperes.
    Io acts as an electrical generator as it moves through Jupiter’s magnetic field, developing 400,000 volts across its diameter and generating an electric current of 3 million amperes that flows along the magnetic field to the planet’s ionosphere.
    http://arc.iki.rssi.ru/solar/eng/io.htm

  21. Jimmy Haigh says:
    September 20, 2010 at 2:58 am

    Jupiter orbits the sun every 11.9 years or so and Saturn in 29.5 years. Every 11 years or so they are either very close together in the sky, such as in 1999, or on opposite sides of the sky, such as this year. So every 22 years they come back to the same relative positions.

    That doesn’t sound right, 22 years is almost two full orbits of Jupiter. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_conjunction says “Great Conjunctions take place regularly, every 18–20 years.”

    The December 2020 conjunction will feature a separation of only 6 arc-minutes.

  22. Ric Werme says:
    September 20, 2010 at 10:18 am

    You are correct – serves me right for making a post in a hurry.

    I’ve just checked – for example, there were conjunctions of Jupiter and Saturn in 1961, 1981 and 2000, and there will be again in 2020, 2040 and 2059. That averages out at just under 20 years.

  23. In the old days, (i.e. before reliable chronometers,) you could get tables that enabled navigators to check chronometer errors by measuring the angles between the moons of Jupiter by sextant.
    I was always a bit sorry that I never was able to try that because although I could measure the angles I never was able to find a source for up-to-date tables. No doubt no-one worked them out.
    Nowadays, I doubt if most navigators even know how to use a sextant any more.

  24. Jupiter and Saturn meet every 19.859 years, so Jupiter needs nearly 2 orbits to meet its neighbour. Now put these numbers together in a simple cosine formula and what you get?
    the sunspot cycles sequence of course:
    http://www.vukcevic.talktalk.net/LFC11.htm
    there is more here:
    http://xxx.lanl.gov/ftp/astro-ph/papers/0401/0401107.pdf
    no Jupiter or Saturn mentioned there, astrology is not something science concerns itself with, to publish leave the offending names out.

  25. oldseadog says:
    September 20, 2010 at 1:12 pm

    Nowadays, I doubt if most navigators even know how to use a sextant any more.

    That’s sad. What happens if your GPS navigation system isn’t working?

  26. W^L+
    Friends still at sea tell me that frequently they get calls on the VHF saying “Our GPS has broken, please can you give me your position”.
    One now replies with “so has mine, but I got a sun position line about 3 hours ago, and I’ll give you the details if you like”.
    This usually results in silence.

  27. Sadly, it’s been cloudy. But I am sure I was able to see Jupiter last week when we had a clear-ish night and I pointed it out to my wife saying that I thought that star was Jupiter. I then started making passing funny remarks about other planets.

  28. 20100921, 2300hrs BST, Southern England. Gin-clear night, Jupiter seen with clarity. Binoculars enhanced the view. Older offspring most impressed with my astronomical knowledge.
    Thanks, WUWT!

  29. Stephen Brown says:
    September 21, 2010 at 2:56 pm

    20100921, 2300hrs BST, Southern England. Gin-clear night, Jupiter seen with clarity. Binoculars enhanced the view.

    Binoculars are quite good, I use a very old pair of ‘Limer’ optics with a 42mm objective lens, a large light gathering lens is really important for night work.
    Try to look for Uranus,(the chances of finding this unblinking pinpoint of light again are remote) as it is only 0.9deg away on the 23rd, it is really the closest point of light close to Jupiter.
    If you take Jupiter’s planetary plane as a guide, then go 90deg from Jupiter 1deg to the north.
    1deg is the width of the nail of your small finger held at arm’s length.

  30. Jupiter’s red spot – or “kissing red spots” are nice examples of nonlinear pattern structures. In this video

    the persistent holes in the vibrated cornstarch are analogies of these Jovian red spots – especially if they approach and repel in the same way.

  31. Sky cleared up last night briefly around 10-11pm and saw something big and bright near the moon that ain’t usually there. Moon was near full and this was pretty much the only other thing visible near it. Could make out a disc shape with binoculars.

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