Stargazers are in for a treat as Jupiter, the largest planet in the solar system, is making its closest approach to Earth in 59 years. This rare event last occurred in 1963.
With an orbit that takes 12 years to complete, the gas giant is approximately 600 million miles (965.6 million km) away from Earth at its farthest point. It will come as near as 367 million miles (590.6 million km) away from Earth.
The planet will appear with a -2.9 magnitude in the skies, giving it an even brighter and bigger appearance. The planet will be visible in the skies over the next few nights, according to media reports.
In a unique coincidence, the planet will reach opposition (when an astronomical object rises in the east as the Sun sets in the west) and will be nearest to Earth, making it larger and brighter than it has been in the last six decades.
Adam Kobelski, a research astrophysicist at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, said, “With good binoculars, the banding (at least the central band) and three or four of the Galilean satellites (moons) of Jupiter should be visible.”
He recommends a 4-inch or larger telescope to view Jupiter’s Great Red Spot and bands in more detail. The massive planet will be best viewed from a high elevation in a dark and dry area.
“The views should be great for a few days before and after Sept. 26,” Kobelski said. “So, take advantage of good weather on either side of this date to take in the sight. Outside of the Moon, it should be one of the (if not the) brightest objects in the night sky,” he added.
Jupiter’s four largest moons, Io, Ganymede, Europa and Callisto, may also be visible alongside the planet. The four satellites, called the Galilean satellites, after Galileo Galilei were first observed in 1610. The satellites will appear as bright dots on either side of Jupiter during the opposition.