Jupiter: Opportunity of a Lifetime

If you make a habit at all of skywatching after dark, you've probably noticed a bright star in the east in the evenings lately. That's actually not a star, and it's not Venus - often one of the most visible planets. It's Jupiter, the largest planet in the cosmic neighborhood, brightening itself up as it comes closer to us than it has at any point in the past seven decades.

NASA, ESA, CSA, Jupiter ERS Team; image processing by Ricardo Hueso (UPV/EHU) and Judy Schmidt

The huge gas giant is set to reach something called opposition on 26 September, which is when the planet will be opposite the sun in the sky. This is why Jupiter is growing increasingly visible not long after sunset in the east, shortly after the sun sets opposite it in the west.

Put another way, we are at the point in orbit when we're about to pass Jupiter, or we're at the closest point to Jupiter in our orbit relative to where it's in its orbit. Now, because orbits aren't perfectly circular things, the distance between our two planets can vary from opposition to opposition (an opposition with Jupiter takes place roughly every 13 months). It just so happens that this will be the closest our worlds will be to each other in at least 70 years.

So this could be the opportunity of a lifetime to get a good view of Jupiter.