Earth to have closest encounter with Jupiter until 2022

Sep 21, 2010 Dr. Tony Phillips
Earth to have closest encounter with Jupiter until 2022
Jupiter's Great Red Spot. Image Credit: NASA.

Been outside at midnight lately? There's something you really need to see. Jupiter is approaching Earth for the closest encounter between the two planets in more than a decade -- and it is dazzling.

The night of closest approach is Sept. 20-21st. This is also called "the night of opposition" because will be opposite the sun, rising at sunset and soaring overhead at midnight. Among all denizens of the midnight sky, only the moon itself will be brighter.

Earth-Jupiter encounters happen every 13 months when the Earth laps Jupiter in their race around the sun. But because Earth and Jupiter do not orbit the sun in perfect circles, they are not always the same distance apart when Earth passes by. On Sept. 20th, Jupiter will be as much as 75 million km closer than previous encounters and will not be this close again until 2022.

The view through a is excellent. Because Jupiter is so close, the planet's disk can be seen in rare detail--and there is a lot to see. For instance, the Great Red Spot, a cyclone twice as wide as Earth, is bumping up against another storm called "Red Spot Jr." The apparition of two planet-sized tempests grinding against one another must be seen to be believed.

Also, Jupiter's trademark South Equatorial Belt (SEB) recently vanished, possibly submerging itself beneath high clouds. Researchers say it could reappear at any moment. The dramatic resurgence would be accompanied by a globe-straddling profusion of spots and cloudy swirls, clearly visible in backyard telescopes.

And what was that flash? have recently reported a surprising number of fireballs in Jupiter's atmosphere. Apparently, many small asteroids or comet fragments are hitting the giant planet and exploding among the clouds. Researchers who have studied these events say visible flashes could be occurring as often as a few times a month.

Finally, we mustn't forget the moons of Jupiter because they are also having a close encounter with . These are planet-sized worlds with active volcanoes (Io), possible underground oceans (Europa), vast fields of craters (Callisto), and mysterious global grooves (Ganymede). When Galileo discovered the moons 400 years ago, they were no more than pinpricks of light in his primitive spy glass. Big, modern amateur telescopes reveal actual planetary disks with colorful markings.

It makes you wonder, what would Galileo think?

Answer: "I'm getting up at midnight!"

Explore further: Cassini sees sunny seas on Titan

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Jupiter making closest approach in nearly 50 years

Sep 17, 2010

(AP) -- Better catch Jupiter next week in the night sky. It won't be that big or bright again until 2022. Jupiter will pass 368 million miles from Earth late Monday, its closest approach since 1963. You can ...

Huge Storms Converge

Jun 06, 2006

The two biggest storms in the solar system are about to go bump in the night, in plain view of backyard telescopes.

Jupiter has lost one of its cloud stripes

May 14, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- New photographs of the gas giant Jupiter, the first taken on May 9, show the massive reddish band of clouds known as the Southern Equatorial Belt in the planet’s southern hemisphere has ...

Jupiter Impact: Mystery of the Missing Debris

Jun 15, 2010

On June 3rd, 2010, something hit Jupiter. A comet or asteroid descended from the black of space, struck the planet's cloudtops, and disintegrated, producing a flash of light so bright it was visible in backyard t ...

Recommended for you

Cassini sees sunny seas on Titan

16 hours ago

(Phys.org) —As it soared past Saturn's large moon Titan recently, NASA's Cassini spacecraft caught a glimpse of bright sunlight reflecting off hydrocarbon seas.

Is space tourism safe or do civilians risk health effects?

20 hours ago

Several companies are developing spacecraft designed to take ordinary citizens, not astronauts, on short trips into space. "Space tourism" and short periods of weightlessness appear to be safe for most individuals ...

An unmanned rocket exploded. So what?

22 hours ago

Sputnik was launched more than 50 years ago. Since then we have seen missions launched to Mercury, Mars and to all the planets within the solar system. We have sent a dozen men to the moon and many more to ...

NASA image: Sunrise from the International Space Station

23 hours ago

NASA astronaut Reid Wiseman posted this image of a sunrise, captured from the International Space Station, to social media on Oct. 29, 2014. Wiseman wrote, "Not every day is easy. Yesterday was a tough one. ...

Copernicus operations secured until 2021

Oct 30, 2014

In a landmark agreement for Europe's Copernicus programme, the European Commission and ESA have signed an Agreement of over €3 billion to manage and implement the Copernicus 'space component' between 2014 ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.