Jupiter To Pass Earth at Closest Range in Decades: What to Know

by Lauren Boisvert
(Image Credit: Science Photo Library/Getty Images)

Jupiter is coming the closest to Earth that it’s been in 59 years, and here’s what to know about the celestial event. The gas giant will be particularly visible tonight, Monday, Sept. 26, because of another event called opposition.

What opposition means is just that a planet is on the opposite side of the Earth from the Sun. NPR writes that you could draw a straight line connecting the Sun, Earth, and Jupiter. That’s opposition. Jupiter comes into opposition every 13 months, and this is when the planet appears at its largest and brightest.

Jupiter Comes Close to Earth, Can Be Seen Even in City Skies

Now, Jupiter hasn’t come this close to Earth since 1963. The Earth and Jupiter have different orbits, and they don’t pass each other at the same distance. But, sometimes, those orbits match up. Similar to how your blinkers match up with the car in front of you, but not every time. Eventually, they will, though, and that’s exactly what’s happening tonight. At its farthest away from Earth, Jupiter is about 600 million miles away. Tonight, it’s a little more than half that, at 367 million miles.

“Jupiter is so bright and brilliant that a really nice thing about it is even in a city, in the middle of a bright city, you can see it,” Alphonse Sterling, a NASA astrophysicist at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, told NPR. “So I would say that it’s a good thing to take advantage of and to look at no matter where you’re at.”

Sterling also mentioned that Jupiter is usually visible in the night sky, and casual stargazers might have difficulty noticing that it’s any larger. But, with a pair of binoculars or a telescope, Jupiter is definitely large and in charge. Sterling told NPR that he even spotted four of Jupiter’s Galilean satellites with just binoculars.

How To See Jupiter At Its Biggest and Brightest Tonight

Well, now that it’s dark out, it’s the perfect time to go out and snag a peek at the gas giant. Just go outside and look to the east. It will rise higher as the night progresses, ending up southeast at around 11 pm. You can see it with your naked eye, but grab some binoculars or a telescope for a truly spectacular view. If you do have binoculars, you’ll have to find a way to hold them steady. Sterling suggested holding them against a ledge, bracing your arms.

“I could definitely see the moons, you know, off to the side of Jupiter looking like little stars,” said Sterling. “So that’s a fun thing that can be done. And that’s certainly easier now than it would be if Jupiter’s at its furthest.”

NPR reports that the next time Jupiter comes this close will be in 2129, so go out there and take a look while you can.