Jupiter, the fifth planet from the Sun and the biggest in our Solar System will be shining more brilliantly than at any other time of year on Tuesday, March 8.
Experts says you’ll only need a half-decent pair of binoculars to easily see the gas giant’s four largest (Galilean) moons sitting in a line either side of the planet.
In astronomy terms, Jupiter will be “at opposition” on this day, meaning it lies opposite the Sun, with the Earth in between.
“This means the gas giant is both at its closest point to the Earth as well as fully illuminated by the Sun from our point of view. These effects together will ensure that Jupiter is looking its best,” says Dr Alan Duffy, an astronomer at Swinburne University in Melbourne.
“It will also be easily the brightest object in the night sky after Venus sets along with the Sun, so Jupiter should be easy to see rising on the opposite side of the sky from the setting Sun,” he adds.
The best time to view Jupiter – named after the king of the Roman Gods – will be at midnight, when the planet is as high in the night sky as it will reach, meaning we are looking at it through the least amount of atmosphere.
However, anytime from about 1.5 hours after sunset will work, Alan adds.
“Just have your back to where the Sun has set and Jupiter will be the brightest light in the sky in front of you.”
• At about 143,000km wide at its equator, Jupiter is the biggest planet in our Solar System – so large, that all of the other planets in the Solar System could fit inside it (or more than 1000 Earths).
• Jupiter lies 5.2 astronomical units from the Sun, or a little over five times the distance from Earth to the Sun.
• Jupiter’s atmosphere is made up of mostly hydrogen and helium gas, just like the Sun.
• Jupiter has four rings, mostly made up of tiny dust particles.