Home > Astronomy > Rare Proximity of Jupiter to Earth

Rare Proximity of Jupiter to Earth

I’m something of an amateur star-gazer. I regularly look up at the night sky in wonderment, pondering the vastness of the universe and just how little we know about it. Looking at the stars is constant confirmation that there’s an ‘out there’. Not all shiny objects up there are stars though. Even more intriguing are the planets, and in particular the giant Jupiter.

jupiter

Jupiter

A few weeks back I noticed an unusually large star that I couldn’t quite place. I still have difficulty translating the sky charts I find on the Internet to the actual sky above. Fortunately, though there was a newsworthy alignment of Venus, Mars and Saturn that got me digging for some decent sky charts so I could figure out where to gaze. I ended up at the Neave Planetarium where I typed in my coordinates and started orienting myself with the patterns. That’s when I noticed the placement of Jupiter and realized it was the bright star I’d been seeing. It was surprising since I’ve always thought of Jupiter as being too far away to have a significant presence in the night sky.

It’s actually true that the planet is normally too far away to be of much interest, but this year is different. Jupiter is on its closest approach to Earth, which happened last in 1951 and won’t be expected again until 2022 according to the National Geographic. The most exciting thing about the close proximity is that I was able to see four of its moons through a pair of binoculars! At first I wasn’t sure since I expected them to be too small, but the dots of light changed their position relative to Jupiter over two days. Two of them are much brighter than the rest so I guess they must be Europa and Ganymede.

I wonder when space tourism pioneers such as Virgin Galactic are going to be capable of getting passengers to destinations beyond Earth orbit.

(image source: http://nssdc.gsfc.nasa.gov/)

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  1. September 21, 2010 at 12:18

    O wao! So let me get this straight, the thing of lying on your back gazing into space could actually translate into amazing sense making views? Why didn’t anyone mention this before! I shall be calling on you for what to look for up there. Then I won’t look all stupid gazing into the night sky, chewing on a blade of grass looking at nothing πŸ˜€ Brilliant post!

    • kalengi
      September 21, 2010 at 14:23

      Hi carolkmail πŸ™‚ It’s definitely a worthwhile experience especially after those blinking dots start making sense.

      Thanks!

  2. September 25, 2010 at 15:05

    This is the 2nd occasion I have come across your blog post in the last couple weeks. Seems like I ought to take note of it.

  3. November 10, 2010 at 07:21

    Wow! I never went beyond the constellations in standard 5 science. Time to crack my books. Thanks for the challenge.

    • kalengi
      November 10, 2010 at 14:52

      Hey @dorcas! I tell you, the wonders of the night sky are innumerable. Funny thing though, those constellations we learned about those days seem to have left the sky!? It’s so hard to make out anything against a backdrop of gazillion other stars.

  1. September 21, 2010 at 05:23
  2. March 14, 2012 at 17:04

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