‘LOOK UP! WHAT’S IN THE NIGHT SKY?’ GUEST COLUMNIST ROD CORTRIGHT
This evening the planet Jupiter appears opposite to the sun in Earth’s sky. It will rise directly to the east at sunset, climb highest up for the night at midnight and set in the west at sunrise.
This occurs when the Earth in its faster (67,000 mph), smaller orbit around the sun swings in between the sun and Jupiter.
When this occurs the term is called opposition. Opposition, with all of the outer planets except Mars, occurs at some point during the year.
Given Mars’ closer orbit and orbital velocity (53,700 mph), opposition occurs on average every 780 days.
At opposition, Jupiter not only shines all night long, but is at its brightest for the year.
This is because at opposition Earth comes closest to Jupiter for the year (414 million miles) and Jupiter, in turn, shines at its brightest in Earth’s sky.
At opposition, Jupiter ranks as the second-brightest planet, after Venus.
As a bonus this year, Jupiter’s opposition happens less than one day before the new moon, providing excellent dark skies for observing it through a telescope.
Also of interest, the new moon on March 8 and 9 will pass in front of the sun, resulting in a total solar eclipse on the other side of the Earth in Indonesia, and a partial solar eclipse for much of southern and eastern Asia, northern and western Australia, Alaska and Hawaii.
Using a medium power telescope, it is easy to see Jupiter’s major cloud bands.
With binoculars or a telescope all four of its major moons can be seen.
They look like pinpricks of light on or near the same plane.
They are often called the Galilean moons to honor Galileo who discovered them 1610.
In their order from Jupiter, these moons are Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto.
Enjoy Jupiter and its moons.
Until next time, “clear skies”
Rod Cortright is an astrophotographer and Vice President of the Northern Michigan Astronomy Club. He regularly submits guest columns to Boyne City astronomer Bryan Shumaker’s “Look up! What’s in the night sky?” feature.
The next meeting of the Northern Michigan Astronomy Club will be held this Thursday March 10 at 7:30 p.m. in Room 311 of the HESC building on the campus of NCM.
The presentation will be on the Hubble Space Telescope. Described as the most productive scientific instrument ever created, we will discuss its history and major discoveries.