Best Time to View Jupiter

Have you noticed the bright "star" in the East after sunset? That's Jupiter, and now is the best time to view the King Planet. Jupiter will be brighter than usual in our skies this month as it approaches opposition on September 26. Oppositions occur when the Sun and a planet are on the opposite side of Earth. Jupiter will begin rising in the East as the Sun sets in the West and will remain visible all night long. 

Jupiter's opposition occurs every 13 months - the amount of time it takes Earth to orbit once around the Sun relative to Jupiter. Every 13 months, we catch up to Jupiter, passing between it and the Sun. But not all oppositions are the same. Some are brighter than others.

The planets in the solar system have elliptical orbits, so their distance from the Sun and each other changes. When a planet is closest to the Sun in its orbit, we say it is at perihelion. When it's at its farthest point, we say it is at aphelion. Oppositions near perihelion are much brighter because the planet is closest to the Sun, and we're in between - making the planet closer to us too.

Jupiter's opposition this month comes just months before it reaches perihelion, making this opposition a close one. In fact, Jupiter will be closer to Earth than it has been in 70 years!

You will get a great view of the solar system's largest planet if you have a telescope or even a pair of binoculars. It will appear as a bright disk surrounded by pinpoint "stars." These are the Galilean moons, named for the discoverer Galileo Galilei. Under ideal sky conditions, you can see some white and red cloud bands bisecting the planet. Keep an eye out for the Great Red Spot, a colossal storm similar to a hurricane, among the clouds too. Jupiter rotates very quickly, once every 9 hours. Heading out at the same time each night will give you a new view of the planet.