20 September 2010

Jupiter's closest approach to Earth

Today Jupiter is at its closest point to Earth for 2010, a mere 368 million miles. Although not a particularly astonishing event, it is nonetheless a prime time to get out your binoculars or telescope to view the giant planet as it dominates the night sky. Jupiter is a fun target to view up close because it offers so much to see: Four bright Moons, colors and textures from its cloud belts, and for a brief time right now it guides you to find the distant planet Uranus.

Every year as the Earth moves around the Sun, at some point in time it is at its closest approach to Jupiter. This moment is called "opposition" and is when the Earth, Sun and Jupiter are all in a perfect line. Each year the distance between the Earth and Jupiter might be a bit more or less depending upon the circumstances of each planet's orbit. This year, the distance is smaller than usual (closest since 1963 and until 2022), but that difference is relatively small from year to year. More important is that the planet is at its brightest for the year, and remains high in the sky for optimum viewing for the entire night.

Sky and Telescope Magazine has an excellent article about this close encounter if you want more details.


Paulie said...

I'm hoping to get out tonight for some sidewalk viewing to show Jupiter, the Galilean Moons, and Uranus.I have to wait to see if the clouds will clear. They were supposed to be gone already. With a bright Moon, it's should be the perfect time to go out and get people to look up.

Paulie said...

Well, we didn't have many people stop to see Jupiter, Uranus, and the Moon Monday night, but the ones who did really appreciated that Hillary and I were out to share such a nice planetary lineup with them. I'm working on the story now.

The Urban Astronomer said...

I received a lot of inquiries about this spectacle from friends, since the Jupiter news seemed to be carried in a lot of places and there was general interest in the close encounter. Weather in San Francisco prevented me from getting out to show this to anyone, but I am going to talk this up at the upcoming Astro event at the California Academy of Sciences, Thursday night.

It's great you were out there ready to meet people on the sidewalk to show them what's up. You never know, even if it is only a small number of visitors, who might be changed for the better by what they saw.

-- Paul

Sidewalk Universe said...

Hey Paul that is a super pic of Jupiter!

I am glad that Paulie is moving his street program forward and showing the full variety of solar system objects! Hey with Uranus so nearby the solar systems giant folks must see it!