Clouds, Jupiter at Opposition

Last Friday (February 6), Jupiter was closer to Earth than it will be for the rest of 2015. The astronomical term for this is opposition and it is also when the Sun lights up the full disk of Jupiter. As a result, Jupiter is at its brightest in the night sky, and it is also visible pretty much all night long, and will be for a few more weeks yet. It’s a great time to look at it with binoculars (or a telescope) and see the four moons that Galileo first spotted.

One reason Jupiter is so bright is because it is by far the largest planet in the Solar System. The other reason is that its clouds reflect a lot of sunlight (image from Hubble Telescope).

Speaking of clouds, we have had mostly cloudy nights here in Chicago. But the next time the clouds part, look for Jupiter. As soon as it gets dark after sunset, look toward the east. The giant planet then wheels around the night sky until it sets in the west around sunrise. You can’t miss it; it looks like a very bright, large white star that outshines everything in the night sky except the Moon and Venus.

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