Jupiter at Opposition

Date: Jan 5 and beyond
Time: 6:30 pm (1 hour after sunset)
Place: the eastern sky

Jupiter reaches opposition on Jan 5, 2014. It will be well placed for observation during all of January and February, residing in the constellation Gemini.This is what opposition means:

  • Jupiter, Earth, and the Sun are approximately collinear, with Earth in the middle.
  • Jupiter is at its closest approach to Earth: 630 million km (390 million miles).
  • Jupiter appears very large, even in binoculars, with an apparent size of 0.01° (1/50 a Full Moon).
  • Jupiter is very bright, shining at magnitude -2.7.
  • Jupiter is up all night, rising at sunset and setting at sunrise.

The configuration shown in the chart is what you’ll see in the east about an hour after sunset. As the night goes on, this grouping rises higher, crossing the meridian around midnight. If you look for it in the west when you get up in the morning, the grouping in the chart will be flipped upside-down. Whenever you look for Jupiter, it’ll be easy to spot — it’s the brightest object in that group of constellations.

And for this 2014 opposition, as it crosses the meridian, Jupiter and company will be high overhead, reaching an elevation of nearly 80°. That bodes well for clear views and astrophotography (especially near midnight).

Even at its closest approach to the Earth, it’s not possible to distinguish Jupiter as more than a bright star-like point of light with the naked eye. But if you have a telescope or binoculars, you’ll be able to see it as a banded disk with an accompanying system of up to four moons (depending on the moons’ positions).

The thumbnails below show how Jupiter would appear in binoculars, an amateur-grade telescope, and the Hubble Space Telescope (HST). Click on each of them to see larger views.

What you’ll be able to see depends on what equipment you have available. If you have even “cheap” binoculars, I think you’ll be surprised at what’s visible. Give your eyes 10-15 minutes to become dark-adapted, get into a comfortable position where you can hold your binoculars steady, and enjoy this view of the “King of Planets.”

Next Week in Sky Lights ⇒ Very Young Moon

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