The last time Jupiter was this close, you may not have been born

Jupiter, the patron of the solar system, will make its closest approach to Earth in 59 years on September 26. The giant will be directly opposite the Sun as seen from Earth, an astronomical arrangement known as opposition.

The planets of the solar system revolve around the Sun in flat circles, or ellipses, rather than perfect circles, so Earth and Jupiter pass each other at varying distances. While Earth takes about 365 days to orbit the Sun, Jupiter takes a more leisurely path around the star, completing one orbit every 4,333 Earth days (every twelve years).

Jupiter’s next closest approach to our planet, known as perigee, will take place on September 26. The gas giant will be about 590 million kilometers from the earth. For comparison, at its furthest point, Jupiter is more than 600 million miles from our planet. The last time Jupiter was this close to us was in October 1963.

Perigee and Opposition

This year is a somewhat special vintage. In fact, the perigee of Jupiter coincides with a opposition event which will take place on September 26. In other words, on this date, the giant will be in the opposite direction of the Sun with respect to Earth. The opposition is common for Jupiter and occurs every thirteen months. However, the event rarely coincides with perigee.

Consequently, Jupiter will be exceptionally bright and large in the night sky. From a vantage point without light pollution, Jupiter will be seen very clearly through a telescope or good binoculars. The moons Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto should also be visible.

The view should be great for a few days before and after September 26.“, confirms Adam Kobelski, an astrophysicist at Marshall Space Flight Center from NASA (Alabama). ” Aside from the moon, it should be one of (if not the) brightest objects in the night sky.“.

Jupiter seen by the Hubble telescope. Credit: NASA, ESA, A. Simon/MH Wong

As a reminder, two missions will visit the Jovian system soon. Clippers Europe, from NASA, will focus on the moon Europa, which will likely host a vast underground ocean. Its launch is scheduled for 2024 aboard a SpaceX rocket. You must reach the site before the end of the decade. For its part, the European mission JUICE (Jupiter Icy Moon Explorer) should be launched in 2023 or 2024. The probe will focus on the planet, but also on Europa, Callisto and above all Ganymede.

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