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Jupiter at opposition 9 May 2018

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On Might 9 the planet Jupiter will likely be what is named ‘at opposition’.  This occasion, which happens each 399 days, occurs when Jupiter is at its closest to the Earth and at its brightest.  To the bare eye it is going to be an excellent white object, thrice brighter than the brightest star. Options equivalent to colored bands and the well-known nice pink spot can simply be seen with a small telescope.


Jupiter by a telescope – picture from NASA

What’s opposition? 

The sequence of diagrams beneath present Jupiter and Earth at totally different factors of their orbits across the Solar. The Earth takes simply over 365 days to finish an orbit. Jupiter, which is additional away from the Solar and strikes extra slowly in its orbit, takes almost 12 years.

Within the first diagram, beneath, Jupiter is at its closest level to the Earth  As seen from Earth, Jupiter is in the other way from the Solar. For this reason it’s referred to as opposition. All night time between sundown and dawn, Jupiter is above the horizon and it reaches its highest level within the sky in the midst of the night time. Jupiter is at its brightest at opposition as a result of it’s at its closest to Earth and your complete sunlit aspect is going through Earth.


Within the diagram beneath, 133 days later, the Earth has accomplished greater than one-third of its journey across the Solar, whereas Jupiter has executed lower than three%. Jupiter seems much less vivid as a result of it’s additional away from Earth and never all of the sunlit aspect of Jupiter is going through us.  As well as, Jupiter seems pretty near the Solar and for more often than not is just above the horizon through the daytime, when it is extremely tough to see in opposition to the brightness of the daytime sky.

199.5 days later the Earth has accomplished greater than half its journey across the Solar, whereas Jupiter has executed simply over Four.6%. At this level, which is named a conjunction of Jupiter and the Solar, Jupiter is just above the horizon within the daytime and is not possible for an novice astronomer to see with out specialist gear, as a result of it’s so near the Solar.

399 days later, the Earth has caught up with Jupiter, so the 2 are stage once more of their orbits. Jupiter is as soon as once more at opposition.



How vivid is Jupiter at opposition?

When discussing the brightness of objects within the sky, astronomers use a scale referred to as magnitude, the place the decrease the magnitude the brighter the article.

The size was invented by the traditional Greek astronomers who labeled all the celebs seen to the bare eye into six magnitudes. The brightest stars had been mentioned to be of magnitude 1, whereas the faintest had been of magnitude 6, which is the restrict of human visible notion (with out assistance from a telescope). At the moment, the magnitude scale is utilized to all objects within the sky, not simply stars, and the magnitude of the very brightest objects is lower than zero. The brightest objects within the sky are (clearly) the Solar, which has a magnitude of -26.7, adopted by the Moon, which has a magnitude of -12.7, at a typical full Moon.

The size is outlined so lower in magnitude by 1 means an improve in brightness by an element of two.512. Due to this fact, a lower in magnitude by 2 would imply a rise in brightness by 6.31, as a result of 2.512 x 2.512 = 6.31. So, for instance:

  • a star of magnitude 1 is 15.9 occasions brighter than a star of magnitude Four. It is because 2.512 x 2.512 x 2.512 = 15.9.
  • a star of magnitude 1 is 100 occasions brighter than a star of magnitude 6. It is because 2.512 x 2.512 x 2.512 x 2.512 x 2.512 = 100

Jupiter strikes in an elliptical orbit across the Solar; which means that its closest distance to Earth is totally different at every opposition. Due to this fact, as proven beneath, the brightness at every opposition will range as effectively.

The diagram above exhibits that if an opposition happens the place Jupiter is closest to the Solar (level A,) Jupiter may also be closest to the Earth and thus brighter than an opposition which happens the place Jupiter is furthest from the Solar (level B) . Within the diagram the elongation of Jupiter’s orbit has been exaggerated. 

The closest Jupiter can get to Earth is 589 million km; when this occurs it shines with a magnitude of -2.9. On the Might 9 opposition, it is going to be 658 million km from Earth and can shine with a magnitude of -2.5, making it three  occasions extra luminous than the brightest star Sirius, which has a magnitude of -1.Four.  For comparability, the desk beneath exhibits the typical magnitude at opposition of the planets which lie exterior the Earth’s orbit.


Knowledge from https://nssdc.gsfc.nasa.gov/planetary/factsheet/

How Does the brightness of Jupiter examine to Venus? 

For the 2 internal planets Venus and Mercury, the state of affairs is somewhat totally different. They will by no means be at opposition as a result of they lie contained in the Earth’s orbit. That is proven within the diagram beneath for Venus.

Venus Phases

As Venus orbits the Earth it goes by phases, much like these of the Moon. Nonetheless, as a result of Venus is so small, they’re solely seen by a telescope. When Venus is closest to the Earth, the purpose often known as its inferior conjunction – labelled A within the diagram – it’s nearly not possible to see as a result of it’s nearly in a direct line of sight with the Solar and its sunlit aspect is going through away from Earth. Venus is definitely at its brightest simply earlier than and simply after inferior conjunction,  factors B and F, when it has a magnitude of round -Four.5.

Though Venus seems brighter than Jupiter, not like Jupiter it’s by no means above the horizon all night time. At level B it is just clearly seen for few hours earlier than dawn the place it is named the Morning Star. At level F it is just seen for a couple of hours after sundown the place it is named the Night Star.

Properties of Jupiter

As almost all my readers will know, Jupiter is the biggest planet within the Photo voltaic System. Its diameter is on common 140,000 km which is roughly 11 occasions that of the Earth, making its quantity 1320 occasions bigger (Williams 2017). It’s its giant dimension which causes Jupiter to look brighter than Mars regardless of it being greater than thrice farther from the Solar.

Not like the smaller internal planets (Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars) which have giant iron cores surrounded by rocky supplies, Jupiter is especially composed of gasoline. It isn’t recognized if it has a strong core, but when one exists it’s going to solely make up a small proportion of the planet. Being made up of largely of gasoline implies that its density is just 25% that of the Earth. Even so, its mass continues to be 320 occasions better, making it extra huge than all the opposite planets, moons, asteroids and comets within the Photo voltaic System put collectively.

Exploration of Jupiter

To this point 9 unmanned spacecraft have visited Jupiter. The primary was Pioneer 10 in 1973 proven beneath.


Picture from NASA

This was adopted by Pioneer 11 (1974), Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 (each 1979), Ulysses (1992), Galileo – which went into orbit round Jupiter between 1995 and 2003, Cassini (2000) and New Horizons (2007). The newest mission Juno (proven beneath) arrived in 2016 and is presently orbiting the planet finding out its environment, magnetic and gravitational fields. For extra particulars on the Juno mission see my submit Mission Juno.

Juno at Jupiter

Picture from NASA

Jupiter’s moons

Jupiter has its personal mini “photo voltaic system” of over 60 moons in orbit round it. The 4 largest moons had been found by Galileo in 1610 and one among them, Ganymede, the biggest moon within the photo voltaic system, is greater than the planet Mercury. The innermost moon Io is essentially the most volcanically energetic object recognized to exist wherever. Europa, the second innermost, is of explicit curiosity as a result of its floor consists of ice beneath that are thought to lie oceans of liquid water, warmed by a course of referred to as tidal friction. Many scientists assume that Europa is likely one of the most promising locations within the Photo voltaic System to seek out extraterrestrial life.

NASA  and the European Area Company (ESA) are growing missions to Jupiter’s moons, will inform us much more about them . The ESA mission is named  (JUICE)  which stands for JUpiter ICy moon Explorer and the NASA mission is named Europa Clipper. Each missions are scheduled for launch in 2022.

Jupiter Moons

The 4 giant moons of Jupiter: Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto -Picture from NASA

I hope you’ve loved this submit and that you should have a transparent night time on the daysaround 9 Might to see this sight.


Within the dialogue of magnitudes all of the values quoted are visible magnitudes. That is how vivid the objects are in mild of wavelength of 540 nanometres, which is within the inexperienced a part of the spectrum. The values at different wavelengths will likely be totally different for various objects. For particulars on mild and the best way the attention sees totally different wavelength as totally different colors see https://thesciencegeek.org/2015/09/30/why-is-the-sky-blue/


Williams, D. R. (2017) Jupiter Reality Sheet, Out there at:http://nssdc.gsfc.nasa.gov/planetary/factsheet/jupiterfact.html (Accessed: 28 April 2018).

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