By Jove! a planet worth watching

Jupiter, the most resplendent bluish-yellow planet in the solar system, will dominate the night sky in December. Jupiter will reach ‘opposition’ on December 2.

‘Opposition’ is the astronomical occurrence when a planet farther from the sun than the earth appears opposite the sun. This is the best time to observe a planet. Jupiter, the fifth planet from the sun, will be at a close opposition, providing an excellent opportunity to observe this   planet.

On December 2, Jupiter will be closest to the earth and could be the brightest celestial object on that day. The 2012 opposition is Jupiter’s closest encounter with the earth till 2021.
The distance between the earth and Jupiter will be about 609 million kilometers on that day.
Second brightest after Venus
Jupiter is the second brightest planet after Venus. A few weeks before and after the opposition on December 2012, Jupiter will be very bright, reaching a visual magnitude of about -2.9.

This will be a good time to observe Jupiter, its great red spot and Jupiter’s four largest satellites namely Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto. A telescope with a magnification of 40 times or above is preferred in observing Jupiter. Visual magnitude is a measure of the brightness of a celestial object. The visual magnitude of a faint star is large and positive.

The brighter a star is, the smaller the visual magnitude will be. On a clear night, the faintest stars that can be observed with one’s naked eyes in the countryside and would have a magnitude of around +6.

During ‘opposition’, Jupiter stands opposite the sun in our sky, so it rises in the east at sunset and sets in the west at sunrise. Jupiter not only beams at its brilliant best for the year, but stays out all night long!

Last year, in 2011, Jupiter happened to swing to perihelion, its closest point to the sun during its 12-year orbit. At perihelion, Jupiter is nearly 50 million miles closer to the sun than when it is at aphelion, its most distant point. That’s why Jupiter is still closer to us than usual during this year’s ‘opposition’. In fact, Jupiter won’t come this close to earth again until the year 2021.

The largest planet in the solar system, Jupiter, reaches maximum brightness the night of December 2.

On that date, the planet lies opposite the sun from earth in our sky — this is called ‘opposition’. Jupiter will rise at sunset, appear highest around local midnight, and set as the sun rises.

The gas giant currently lies in Aries and is about 100 times more brilliant than the brightest star in that constellation. We can observe Jupiter’s disk through any size telescope, which makes the planet a great target for beginners. You’ll be able to spot its dark equatorial cloud belts and even its four major moons, which align with Jupiter’s equator.

Presently, Jupiter is clearly perceptible in the east at 8:30 pm in the constellation Taurus from all parts of the country. Jupiter revolves around the sun with a period of about 11.86 years. Opposition of Jupiter will occur once every 399 days. Jupiter is easily discernible, as a bright watermelon-coloured star rising in the east after sunset, and can be found virtually overhead at midnight, and sets in the west at dawn.

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