The largest planet in the solar system will be well within sight this month, according to NASA.
On June 10, Jupiter reaches opposition, meaning the Earth falls in the middle of a straight line between the Sun and Jupiter. That means that this month is the best time to see the Gas Giant, which will be visible all night leading up to and following opposition.
To the naked eye, Jupiter will be a “a brilliant jewel.” But with binoculars or a small telescope, you’ll be able to see even more — including its four largest moons and maybe even a glimpse of the planet’s famous red bands.
Watch NASA explain this and other night sky wonders you can catch this month below:
We go between the sun and Jupiter June 10
On June 10, 2019, our planet Earth flies between the sun and the outer planet Jupiter. Our faster motion places Jupiter – largest world in our solar system, and an exceedingly bright planet in our sky – opposite the sun about once each year. In other words, Jupiter is now rising in the east as the sun is setting below the western horizon. Astronomers call this event an opposition of Jupiter.
Opposition marks the middle of the best time of year to see a planet. That’s because it’s when the planet is up all night and generally closest for the year (the exact date of Jupiter at its closest this year is June 12).
Jupiter is now in the east around sunset. It climbs highest in the sky at midnight (that is, midway between sunset and sunrise). It sets in the west around sunrise. Jupiter is always bright; it’s the largest planet in our solar system. It shines more brightly than any star in the evening sky. At this 2019 opposition, Jupiter shines in the vicinity of Antares, the brightest star in the constellation Scorpius the Scorpion. There’s no way to mistake Antares for Jupiter, though, because dazzling Jupiter outshines this 1st-magnitude star by nearly 30 times. With the exception of the sun and moon, only Venus – the brightest planet, now low in the east before sunrise – outshines Jupiter. Try catching both Venus and Jupiter at morning dawn. Venus will be blazing low in the east while Jupiter is sitting low in the west. You’ll need an unobstructed horizon in both directions to see both Venus and Jupiter before sunrise.
Technically, as it reaches its 2019 opposition, Jupiter isn’t in front of Scorpius. It’s just north (above) the Scorpion’s northern border. That places Jupiter officially in the constellation Ophiuchus the Serpent Bearer at this 2019 opposition. Jupiter will remain in Ophiuchus until nearly the end of this year. Next year, in 2020, Jupiter will be in front of the constellation Sagittarius the Archer when it comes to opposition.
Ophiuchus isn’t the world’s brightest contellation. Maybe you’ve never taken the time to pick out its stars. If you want to do so, be sure to look in a dark sky. The chart below might help:
Jupiter comes to opposition about every 13 months. That’s how long Earth takes to travel once around the sun relative to Jupiter. As a result – according to our earthly calendars – Jupiter’s opposition comes about a month later each year.
Last year – in 2018 – Jupiter’s opposition date was May 9.
Next year – in 2020 – it’ll be July 14.
From Denver, it will be visible between 21:06 and 04:49. It will become accessible at around 21:06, when it rises 7° above your south-eastern horizon, and then reach its highest point in the sky at 00:59, 27° above your southern horizon. It will become inaccessible at around 04:49 when it sinks to 8° above your south-western horizon.
Jupiter opposite the Sun
This optimal positioning occurs when Jupiter is almost directly opposite the Sun in the sky. Since the Sun reaches its greatest distance below the horizon at midnight, the point opposite to it is highest in the sky at the same time.
At around the same time that Jupiter passes opposition, it also makes its closest approach to the Earth – termed its perigee – making it appear at its brightest and largest.
This happens because when Jupiter lies opposite the Sun in the sky, the solar system is lined up so that Jupiter, the Earth and the Sun form a straight line with the Earth in the middle, on the same side of the Sun as Jupiter.
In practice, however, Jupiter orbits much further out in the solar system than the Earth – at an average distance from the Sun of 5.20 times that of the Earth, and so its angular size does not vary much as it cycles between opposition and solar conjunction.
On this occasion, Jupiter will lie at a distance of 4.28 AU, and its disk will measure 45.0 arcsec in diameter, shining at magnitude -2.6. Even at its closest approach to the Earth, however, it is not possible to distinguish it as more than a star-like point of light with the naked eye, though a good pair of binoculars is sufficient to reveal it as a disk of light with accompanying system of moons.
Jupiter in coming weeks
Over the weeks following its opposition, Jupiter will reach its highest point in the sky four minutes earlier each night, gradually receding from the pre-dawn morning sky while remaining visible in the evening sky for a few months.
The position of Jupiter at the moment it passes opposition will be:
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