Today, Earth will pass between Jupiter (the largest planet in our solar system) and the sun, which means planet Jupiter will be directly opposite the sun, this is known as an “opposition” of Jupiter. The opposition will occur at 8:00 pm central time. You will be able to spot Jupiter tonight at midnight, by looking towards the southern sky. At dawn Monday morning, you’ll see Jupiter low in the western sky. Jupiter will be brighter than any star in the sky and will be near the bright red star Aldebaran, in the constellation Taurus.
Jupiter comes to opposition about every 13 months, as the Earth makes its yearly rotation around the sun. In contrast, Jupiter’s orbit around the sun takes 12 years. Why is this? Earth’s orbit is closer to the sun than Jupiter’s, Earth is the third closest planet to the sun, while Jupiter is the fifth. Also Earth rotates around the sun faster, at approximately 18 miles per second, whereas Jupiter travels at 8 miles per second around the sun.
The closest approach of Jupiter every year, usually occurs around opposition. Actually the closest Jupiter will be to Earth until the year 2021 occurred yesterday, December 1st, when it was only was only 378 million miles away. Jupiter will remain relatively close and bright in the night sky through January 2013. Jupiter passed its perihelion (closest point to the sun) back in March 2011 and since that time, Jupiter has been moving farther and farther away from the sun. Jupiter will continue to get farther away from the sun until its aphelion (farthest point from the sun) that occurs in 2017. Though there will be some clouds around, take a moment tonight and enjoy a little celestial beauty by taking a look at Jupiter!
- Jennifer Watson
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