SAN ANTONIO – Stargazers are in for a treat Monday night as Jupiter reaches opposition and makes its closest approach to Earth in the last six decades.
Jupiter’s opposition occurs every 13 months, according to NASA. That makes the gas giant appear larger and brighter than any other time of year.
“With good binoculars, the banding (at least the central band) and three or four of the Galilean satellites (moons) should be visible,” said Adam Kobelski, a research astrophysicist at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.
A NASA blog post states that Jupiter has 53 named moons, however, scientists believe there are 79 moons that have been detected in total. The four largest moons are Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto — known as the Galilean satellites after their discovery in 1610 by Galileo Galilei.
The ideal viewing will be a dark area with high elevation.
“The weather is going to be great for celestial viewing thanks to the dry air that’s moving in. Of course, the farther you are away from city lights the better,” said meteorologist Mike Osterhage.
“The views should be great for a few days before and after Sept. 26,” Kobelski said. “So, take advantage of good weather on either side of this date to take in the sight. Outside of the Moon, it should be one of the (if not the) brightest objects in the night sky.”
The last time Jupiter was this close to the Earth was 1963 — nearly 60 years ago.
“Jupiter’s closest approach to Earth rarely coincides with opposition, which means this year’s views will be extraordinary,” the NASA website states.
Jupiter is 600 million miles away from Earth at its farthest point and at its closest roughly 367 million miles away.
It’s also the largest planet in the solar system — more than twice as massive as all the other planets combined, according to NASA .
NASA spacecraft Juno has been orbiting Jupiter for six years. The spacecraft was launched in 2011 and reached the planet five years later in 2016.
Scientists believe Jupiter could hold secrets regarding the formation of our solar system.