On April 8 at night, Jupiter will make its closest approach to earth, coming to within about 414 million miles of our home planet and appearing extraordinarily bright in the night sky. It will come close to Earth forming a straight line and will be visible to the naked eye.
Jupiter will rise in the East around sunset and will be visible all night, weather permitting before it settles in the west on Saturday morning.
No special equipment is needed to enjoy this Jovian close-up, a phenomenon astronomers call Jupiter “at opposition” because the planet and the sun are on opposite sides of Earth. But if you have binoculars, it would be possible to see the massive planet with its 4 largest moons, Callisto, Europa, Ganymede, and Io, as well as Jupiter’s Great Red Spot, a vast storm that almost twice the size of Earth. According to NASA, it would be an opportunity for astronomers using a telescope in space to catch more details in Jupiter’s atmosphere.
Observe Jupiter for a couple of nights in a row, and you may see the moons change their relative positions, as each orbits Jupiter at a different speed. You certainly wouldn’t be the first person to make this eye-popping observation.
“This changing pattern of moons is what allowed Galileo to discover the four Gallilean moons, each about the size of our own moon, a little over 400 years ago,” Dr. Tyler Nordgren, an astronomer at the University of the Redlands in California, told NBC MACH in an email.
Hence, an observer can easily locate Jupiter looking opposite direction to sunset in the evening. Similarly, in the morning, one has to look opposite the direction of sunrise to locate Jupiter. During this event, the Jupiter will be fully illuminated by the sun and appears disk-like. Importantly, during opposition, the planet in question would be at its closest approach and thus would appear more big and brighter than usual.
AccuWeather meteorologist Dave Samuhel recommends that the best time to observe Jupiter is around midnight local time because it is when it will be at its highest in the sky. He added that from the southeast through the Plains would be the best viewing conditions because clouds are forecast to cover the sky across the Northeast and much of the West Coast and the Rockies.
If you’re stuck indoors or clouds obscure the sky, you can enjoy a live steam featuring telescopic views of Jupiter and its moons in this video player below starting at 4.30 pm EDT.
The coverage would include commentaries from experts regarding Jupiter’s role in protecting the inner solar system from comets. The show will also tackle why the planet can be considered a “failed star,” among other things.
The event, which takes place every 13 months, is officially called “opposition,” because it’s the point at which the planet is situated directly opposite the sun in the sky. The Earth sits in between the sun and Jupiter as the three lines up. The next “opposition” after Friday will take place on May 8, 2018.