P.S.A.'S · 20th September 2010
Tonight, Earth and Jupiter converge for their closest encounter until 2022. The giant planet will soar overhead at midnight, outshining everything except the Moon itself. At this time, even a small telescope pointed at Jupiter will reveal the planet's moons, cloud belts and swirling storms. Take a look!
If Jupiter is up at midnight, it must be opposite the sun: diagram. Indeed, astronomers call this "Jupiter's night of opposition." The effect of opposition may be seen in the shadow of Jupiter's moon Io, shown above in a photo taken last night by Anthony Wesley of Australia:
"Io was almost on top of its own shadow," points out Wesley. "This is due to the near-perfect alignment of Jupiter, Earth and the sun."
In a coincidence of interplanetary proportions, Uranus is also at opposition tonight. This rare double opposition of two giant planets is a once-in-a-lifetime event. Unlike Jupiter, Uranus is barely visible to the naked eye, a result of its smaller size and greater distance. It looks great, however, through a small telescope. Just point your optics at Jupiter and you will find emerald Uranus about 1 degree away.