Bright and Beautiful Jupiter Coming Closest to Earth in Decades Tonight
Another amazing celestial event is overhead tonight and the weather will be absolutely perfect for viewing it.
Our solar system's largest planet comes the closest it's been to Earth in nearly six decades and even folks without telescopes will be able to see it shining in the night sky.
We're, of course, talking about Jupiter, and those who happen to have telescopes handy will get an extra treat.
Jupiter is going to be so close to Earth tonight, that not just the planet, but several of its 79 moons are going to be visible, too. The four moons referred to as Jupiter's Galilean satellites (Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto) will all float just off Jupiter's left side and look like small stars hanging out near the gas giant.
All of these moons are able to be seen because Jupiter is currently in opposition.
Jupiter is orbiting in such a way that it will pass by Earth at just 367 million miles away. This may still sound pretty far, and it is, but typically Jupiter orbits about 600 million miles away from us, so this is nearly half the usual distance. That means tonight Jupiter is closer, brighter and bigger than it has been been in years.
So, what does this all mean for you?
Well, according to NASA, Jupiter will be so bright and brilliant in the night sky that even people living in the middle of a bright city will be able to see this gas giant.
How Can You Tell You're Seeing Jupiter?
Admittedly it can be tough to know if you're seeing a star or seeing Jupiter with the naked eye. Both appear as very bright points of light, with one main difference: Jupiter will not twinkle or blink.
Stars give off their own light, as our sun does, but planets do not. Usually, Jupiter is visible because it is reflecting the sun's light back toward Earth and that light does not twinkle as a star's will when traveling through space.
So basically, if it blinks it's a star, if it's steadily bright, it is probably Jupiter.
Do I Need a Telescope to See Jupiter?
Short answer: No. Day or night, Jupiter can be visible to the naked eye. However, if you want to see details on Jupiter's surface, like the dark bands that appear to run across the planet or its famous Great Red Spot, you should have at least a low-powered telescope available to you.
Many astronomers say using binoculars will give you good details, too, though you have to hold them super steady to observe this huge planet well.
However you choose to check it out, just make sure you do. Jupiter won't be this close to Earth again in most of our lifetimes, so tonight's show in the night sky is literally a once-in-a-lifetime celestial event.