This has been a historically cloudy December in Chicago. But this past Thursday morning, the skies were briefly clear, and the sight of brilliant Jupiter high in the southwest and the waning crescent Moon in the southeast were inspiring.
Jupiter is currently the brightest object in the sky other than the Sun and Moon. One of the reasons it is so bright is it is by far the largest planet in the Solar System; also, its clouds reflect a lot of the Sun’s light. Right now, Jupiter rises a little bit before 9:00 pm, so you can see it almost all night long, and obviously into the dawn hours. As the days and weeks progress, it will rise earlier and earlier in the evening. You can’t miss it. It’s light is steady and bright.
Jupiter has a lot of interesting Moons, including Europa (pictured). There is abundant evidence that beneath Europa’s icy crust there is an ocean of liquid water, perhaps larger in volume than all Earth’s water. That’s exciting because if life were to exist somewhere else in the Solar System, Europa would be one of the most promising candidates.
Look for Jupiter all winter into spring 2015.