Have you seen Jupiter rise? The giant planet, the largest in our Solar System, has been steadily brightening in our night sky and rising earlier and earlier in recent months.
It comes to a head on September 26, 2022 when it reaches its annual “opposition,” the point in Earth’s orbit when we, in our much faster orbiting world, move to a position precisely between the Sun and Jupiter. .
Since Jupiter takes 12 years to orbit the Sun, its opposition (as seen from Earth) occurs once every 13 months.
The effect is mesmerizing and lasts for a few weeks.
In addition to Jupiter appearing momentarily illuminated, with 100% of its disk visible to anyone with a pair of binoculars or a small telescope, the fifth planet from the Sun is perfectly positioned to be observed for long periods.
Another advantage of being in “opposition” is that an outer planet rises in the east at sunset and sets in the west at sunrise. Therefore, he is “up” all night.
However, there is something very special about Jupiter’s opposition in 2022.
It will be exactly 593.6 million kilometers from Earth at its time of opposition, which is its closest approach to Earth from 1963 to 2139, making it the “best” opposition in 166 years.
It will shine at magnitude -2.9, making it the brightest thing currently visible in the post-sunset night sky aside from the Moon.
Jupiter’s opposition will not go unnoticed. Any planets close to its opposition are visible near the horizon in the early evening when many people are still outside. The result of that is that it is much more noticeable than when it is high in the sky at night.
But take a closer look. With any pair of binoculars or even a small telescope pointed at Jupiter you will see three or four of its large Galilean moons: Europa, Ganymede, Callisto and Io.
Look just above Jupiter and you’ll also see a diamond-shaped constellation of four bright stars known as the “Great Square of Pegasus,” an asterism (unofficial shape) within a larger constellation. Look to the right and you’ll see Saturn, whose incredible ring pattern is visible through any small telescope.
Jupiter will be bright and beautiful for at least the next few weeks before rising earlier and earlier and therefore moving higher in the night sky. The giant planet will enter opposition on November 3, 2023.
I wish you clear skies and wide eyes.