Jupiter Takes Over the Night Sky During September: Rising in the East at Nightfall, Setting in the West Just Before Daybreak.

23 Sep

Jupiter making closest approach to Earth in nearly 50 years, will be most visible Monday night

(Be sure to check the sky chart below which gives the real-time position of Jupiter and the stars in the Los Angeles sky)

MARCIA DUNN

AP Aerospace Writer

3:14 PM PDT, September 17, 2010

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — Better catch Jupiter next week in the night sky. It won’t be that big or bright again until 2022.http://science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2010/15sep_jupiter/

Jupiter will pass 368 million miles from Earth late Monday, its closest approach since 1963. You can see it low in the east around dusk. Around midnight, it will be directly overhead. That’s because Earth will be passing between Jupiter and the sun, into the wee hours of Tuesday.

The solar system’s largest planet already appears as an incredibly bright star — three times brighter than the brightest star in the sky, Sirius. The only thing brighter in the night sky right now is our moon. Binoculars and telescopes will dramatically improve the view as Jupiter, along with its many moons, rises in the east as the sun sets.

“Jupiter is so bright right now, you don’t need a sky map to find it,” said Tony Phillips, a California astronomer under contract with NASA. “You just walk outside and see it. It’s so eye-catching, there it is.”

Phillips has never seen Jupiter so bright. “To an experienced observer, the difference is notable,” he said Friday.

Coincidentally, Uranus also will make a close approach the same night. It will appear close to Jupiter but harder to see with the naked eye. Through a telescope, it will shine like an emerald-colored disk less than one degree from Jupiter.

Jupiter comes relatively close to Earth about every 12 years. In 1999, it passed slightly farther away. What’s rare this time is Uranus making a close appearance at the same time, Phillips said. He called it “a once-in-a-lifetime event.” While seen right next to Jupiter through a telescope, Uranus actually will be 1.7 billion miles from Earth on Monday night.

Phillips urges stargazers not to give up if it’s cloudy Monday night. Jupiter will remain relatively close for many weeks, he noted, providing good viewing opportunities for some time. And for those who are early risers instead of night owls, Jupiter will be visible setting in the west just before sunrise.

STORY FROM THE LA TIMES.  Found at: latimes.com/news/science/wire/sns-ap-us-sci-jupiters-approach,0,1234196.story

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(This article taken from the NASA website)

Closest Encounter with Jupiter until 2022

Sept. 15, 2010:  Been outside at midnight lately? There’s something you really need to see. Jupiter is approaching Earth for the closest encounter between the two planets in more than a decade–and it is dazzling.

The night of closest approach is Sept. 20-21st. This is also called “the night of opposition” because Jupiter will be opposite the sun, rising at sunset and soaring overhead at midnight. Among all denizens of the midnight sky, only the Moon itself will be brighter.

Close Encounter with Jupiter (Tama Ladanyi, 550px)
Science@NASA reader Tamas Ladanyi took this picture of a friend photographing Jupiter over a lake in the Bakony mountains of Hungary on Sept. 5th. “The giant planet was remarkably bright,” says Ladanyi. [larger image]

Earth-Jupiter encounters happen every 13 months when the Earth laps Jupiter in their race around the sun. But because Earth and Jupiter do not orbit the sun in perfect circles, they are not always the same distance apart when Earth passes by. On Sept. 20th, Jupiter will be as much as 75 million km closer than previous encounters and will not be this close again until 2022.

The view through a telescope is excellent. Because Jupiter is so close, the planet’s disk can be seen in rare detail–and there is a lot to see. For instance, the Great Red Spot, a cyclone twice as wide as Earth, is bumping up against another storm called “Red Spot Jr.” The apparition of two planet-sized tempests grinding against one another must be seen to be believed.

Close Encounter with Jupiter (Alan Friedman, 200px)
Jupiter’s “kissing red spots” photographed by Alan Friedman of Buffalo, NY, using a 10-inch telescope. The full-sized image shows the golden disk of Jupiter’s moon Io.

Also, Jupiter’s trademark South Equatorial Belt (SEB) recently vanished, possibly submerging itself beneath high clouds. Researchers say it could reappear at any moment. The dramatic resurgence would be accompanied by a globe-straddling profusion of spots and cloudy swirls, clearly visible in backyard telescopes.

And what was that flash? Amateur astronomers have recently reported a surprising number of fireballs in Jupiter’s atmosphere. Apparently, many small asteroids or comet fragments are hitting the giant planet and exploding among the clouds. Researchers who have studied these events say visible flashes could be occurring as often as a few times a month.

Finally, we mustn’t forget the moons of Jupiter because they are also having a close encounter with Earth. These are planet-sized worlds with active volcanoes (Io), possible underground oceans (Europa), vast fields of craters (Callisto), and mysterious global grooves (Ganymede). When Galileo discovered the moons 400 years ago, they were no more than pinpricks of light in his primitive spy glass. Big, modern amateur telescopes reveal actual planetary disks with colorful markings.

It makes you wonder, what would Galileo think?

Answer: “I’m getting up at midnight!”
Author: Dr. Tony Phillips | Credit: Science@NASA

**Current Sky Over Los Angeles**

current night sky over Los Angeles, CA
Sky map by AstroViewer®
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