There’s Something in the Sky Tonight
by Anthony - posted 11:56 am, September 20, 2010
Tonight at approximately midnight, stargazers will be treated to a rare sight. Jupiter will be in near perfect opposition to the Earth, and at it’s closest in decades. Take a look to the sky tonight and the brightest thing you’ll see – besides our moon – is the red colored gas giant.
While the planets cross once every thirteen months, their orbits are not perfect circles, so it’s of varying distances. Tonight marks the closest the planet will pass opposed to the sun since 1963, and it won’t align as so again until 2022 as Jupiter completes its nearly 12 year orbit. Tonight, it will be as much as 46.6 million miles closer than than usual for this sort of alignment, making it easily visible to the naked eye and outshining all of the stars in our view. (It will be at a near perfect minimum of about 365 million miles away; as opposed to it’s maximum distance of approximately 601 million miles – a 40% difference!) Jupiter will rise over the horizon beginning at sunset and will be at its closest, and brightest, at around midnight. While tonight is the best viewing in decades, Jupiter will remain close for the next few weeks if you miss your chance at midnight.
Taken from his amateur back-yard observatory right here in downtown Buffalo, local photographer Alan Friedman has an absolutely awesome shot of Jupiter from just three weeks ago on his website, here. (So awesome, it was was featured on NASA’s Science News website.) While you’re waiting for midnight, check out some more of his work at his home page, avertedimagination.com.
On a related note, another once in a lifetime alignment occurs tonight with Uranus also at opposition to our sun, about one degree apart from Jupiter in the sky. It is a rare coincidence that both planets nearly align in opposition from the sun at the same time. This one however will be barely visible, if at all, to the naked eye, but even the most basic hobby telescope should be enough to catch a glimpse. So while you’re taking a look at Jupiter, you’ll might be able to find an emerald green point of light that is Uranus near by.