Jupiter will be at its biggest and brightest in our sky this week, giving those on Earth our best chance of the year to see the gas giant and four of its moons.
Jupiter — our solar system’s largest planet — will be at its closest point to Earth on Monday, June 10, according to NASA. It will rise in the sky at dusk and remain visible all night.
“The solar system’s largest planet is a brilliant jewel to the naked eye, but looks fantastic through binoculars or a small telescope, which will allow you to spot the four largest moons, and maybe even glimpse a hint of the banded clouds that encircle the planet,” NASA said.
On Monday, Jupiter, Earth and the Sun will be in a straight line, with Earth in the middle, according to NASA. That will be the best day to see the planet and its moons. With binoculars or a telescope you may also be able to see Jupiter’s Great Red Spot.
Jupiter will begin to rise in the sky after sunset, though it will take a few hours to climb high enough to get a good view, according to Bob King of Sky & Telescope magazine. Try facing southeast around 11:30 p.m. for the best view.
Jupiter has 79 moons. But only the four brightest — Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto — will be visible. Ganymede, with a crust of ice and rock, is the largest moon in the solar system and bigger than the planet Mercury.
Through binoculars, it will look like Jupiter and its moons are lining up next to each other. But you will need to keep your binoculars steady.
“They look like tiny stars ‘sticking’ to either side of the planet. If you don’t have a way to mount binoculars on a tripod, use the roof of your car or pivot them against a corner of a building to keep your glass steady,” King writes.
Don’t worry if the weather is too cloudy or rainy to skywatch on Monday. You will be able to see Jupiter well for several more weeks.
And if you miss it this year, Jupiter will be at its closest to Earth again in 13 months, in July 2020, astronomers say.
If you want a closer look at the planet, NASA’s Juno spacecraft is currently orbiting Jupiter and sending back some amazing images, the agency said.
Kelly Heyboer may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @KellyHeyboer. Find her at KellyHeyboerReporter on Facebook. Find NJ.com on Facebook.
Have a tip? Tell us. nj.com/tips
Get the latest updates right in your inbox. Subscribe to NJ.com’s newsletters.