How to see Jupiter from our region as gas giant enters 'opposition' and closest point to Earth

Jupiter is on average 391 million miles away from Earth, but because both planets travel in elliptical orbits around the Sun, the gas giant's distance from our home planet is constantly changing.

A composite image of Jupiter taken by the James Webb Space Telescope's Near-Infrared Camera (Photo courtesy: NASA, ESA, CSA, Jupiter ERS Team; image processing by Judy Schmidt).
A composite image of Jupiter taken by the James Webb Space Telescope's Near-Infrared Camera (Photo courtesy: NASA, ESA, CSA, Jupiter ERS Team; image processing by Judy Schmidt).

That's good news for amateur astrophotographers and space enthusiasts across our region, because tomorrow the largest planet in our solar system will be the biggest and most visible its been to the naked eye for 59 years.

Starting this weekend, because two celestial events have fortuitously occurred at the same time, you'll be able to see Jupiter in all its glory, because apart from the Moon, it'll be the brightest object in the night sky.

With parts of the region designated superb spots for stargazing, including the Shropshire Hills, this is the perfect opportunity for Star readers to become stargazers.

Below is everything you need to know to successfully view the King of the Solar System.

Voyager 1 captured this close-up image of swirling clouds around Jupiter's Great Red Spot in 1979 (Photo courtesy: NASA/JPL)

How far away is Jupiter?

Jupiter's distance from Earth is always changing because both planets take an elliptical path around the Sun.

When its at its furthest, Jupiter is more than 600 million miles away. At its closest point, the distance from Earth to Jupiter is just 365 million miles, which makes it appear very bright in the sky.

The gas giant usually makes its closest approach to Earth around every 12 years. This weekend, its about 367 million miles from Earth, which is obviously very close.

However, something else has happened to make this Monday particularly special.

What is so special about this year?

On Monday, Jupiter will reach opposition. That means the planet will find itself placed on one side of the Earth with the Sun opposite, creating a very clear, nicely framed image.

Jupiter is obviously visible now and has kept amateur astronomers busy throughout September, but Monday should provide the most spectacular views from our region (if the sky is clear) from sunset to sunrise on Tuesday.

On its own, Jupiter falls into opposition relatively regularly - around every 13 months, but it just so happens that the King of the Solar System is also on its closest approach to Earth for decades.

This will make the planet spectacularly visible.

To put these two events overlapping in perspective, opposition and the closest approach will reportedly not happen together again until nearly the middle of the next century.

Will I actually be able to see it without equipment?

Weather permitting, you will be able to see Jupiter without a telescope or astronomy equipment.

It will essentially look like the brightest star in the sky, but it won't be twinkling. You're better off finding a location with no artificial light.

According to BBC Science Focus, "A decent set of binoculars (7x to 10x magnification) will provide you with a view of Jupiter’s four largest moons, Ganymede, Europa, Callisto and Io, and a telescope will allow you to view Jupiter’s stripes."

Those with the right equipment will be able to take incredible photographs of the planet, as many have been this month.

How do I spot Jupiter in the sky?

Amateur and professional astronomers and astrophotographers will probably be able to find the planet by tracking the stars, as Jupiter will reportedly rise in the eastern sky in the constellation Pisces.

However, the best bet for those trying this for the first time or with limited levels of expertise is to download an astronomy app onto your mobile phone.

These are able to accurately chart the night sky because our phones know the time and date and therefore what's going on in space. They use other functions of the device to create a real-time map of the sky.

All you have to do is point it upwards and it'll tell you what you're seeing.

What's the weather looking like in the West Midlands and Shropshire?

According to the Met Office, Monday's going to be a "windy day with a mixture of sunny spells and scattered showers. Feeling that bit colder if exposed to the wind. Maximum temperature 15 °C."

Hopefully, the sunny spells are enough to burn away the cloud and create a clear night for Jupiter viewing.

How are the professionals currently studying Jupiter?

NASA's Juno spacecraft, which has studied Jupiter up close and personal, will on Thursday (29) come within just 222 miles of the planet's icy moon Europa.

It's expected to take some incredible high resolution images of the surface, as well as gather valuable scientific data about the mysterious moon.

You can read more about the latest stage of Juno's mission HERE.

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