Jupiter’s Closest Approach for 59 Years Still Visible From Earth Tonight

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Astronomers were treated to stunning views of Jupiter on September 26 as the largest planet in the Solar System made its closest pass by Earth since 1963. Fortunately, anyone who missed the occasion on Monday night can still see the planet shining brightly on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Jupiter is particularly large and bright in the sky at the moment, partly because it is at a point in its orbit that has brought it particularly close to Earth—367 million miles away, to be precise. This sounds like a lot, but it is relatively close when considering the planet can be around 600 million miles away from Earth at its farthest point.

That is not the only reason why now is a good time to spot the gas giant, though. On September 26, Jupiter was in opposition—referring to when the sun, the Earth, and a planet in the outer part of the solar system all line up perfectly in that order.

A photo of Jupiter and its moons in the sky by the Empire State Building in New York City, taken on September 26, 2022. At the time, Jupiter was at opposition to the sun and was also at its closest point to Earth in 59 years.
Gary Hershorn/Getty

Jupiter’s opposition occurs once every 13 months, making the planet appear larger and brighter than any other time of the year. This, combined with its proximity to Earth at the moment, means now is a good time to spot the planet.

“The views should be great for a few days before and after Sept. 26,” Adam Kobelski, a research astrophysicist at NASA‘s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, was quoted as saying in a September 16 NASA blog post on Jupiter’s close pass.

“So, take advantage of good weather on either side of this date to take in the sight. Outside of the Moon, it should be one of the (if not the) brightest objects in the night sky.”

The reason Jupiter gets closer to and further away from Earth at times is because it orbits the sun at a different speed to our planet. In addition, the orbits of Jupiter and Earth are not circular. Rather, they are oval-shaped or elliptical. This affects the distance between them, too.

Following Monday’s opposition, several night sky enthusiasts took to Twitter to publish their photos of the giant planet.

Amateur astronomer and astrophotographer Steve Brown posted the following photo from the U.K. It shows Jupiter’s colorful bands of cloud as well as Io, one of its many moons.

“It was wonderful to see Jupiter so bright and great to see the Galilean moons and the Great Red Spot too,” Brown told Newsweek.

For those with clear skies away from light pollution at night, it should still be possible to get great views of the planet for the next two nights or so.

Currently, Jupiter is ascending in the east in the evening near the constellation Pisces, according to astronomy website EarthSky. It should be brighter than all the other visible planets in the sky except Venus, and it should also appear brighter than all the stars. A constellation map on a mobile phone may help with locating it. Websites like The Sky Live can be used to work out Jupiter’s rise and set times as these will vary by location.

No equipment is needed to view Jupiter, though binoculars or a telescope will help with bringing out extra detail such as the planet’s colorful cloud bands and its many moons.

Update, 9/27/22, 11:53 a.m. ET: This article has been updated to include comment from astrophotographer Steve Brown.

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