Thursday 6 April 2017

Jupiter at opposition.

The planet Jupiter will be at opposition (directly opposite the Sun) slightly before 9.30 pm GMT on Friday 7 April 2017. This means that it will both be at its closest to the Earth this year, about 4.45 AU (4.5 times the average distance between the Earth and the Sun, or about 666 400 000 km), and completely illuminated by the Sun. While it is not obvious to the naked eye observer, the planets have phases just like those of the Moon; being further from the Sun than the Earth, Jupiter is 'full' when directly opposite the Sun. 

The relative positions of the Earth, Sun and Jupiter on 7 April 2017. When the curves line up.

While the relative positions of the planets have no direct influence on life on Earth, the opposition of Jupiter does present the best opportunity for observations of the planet by Earth-based observers. On Friday 7 April Jupiter will appear as a bright object in the constellation of Virgo, appearing at about sunset in the southeast in the Northern Hemisphere and the northeast in the Southern Hemisphere. Seen through a moderate sized telescope both the planet and its larger moons should be visible, though it will be fairly close to the Moon, which will impair viewing slightly.

The relative position of Jupiter and the Moon on 10 April 2017. Beckstrom Observatory.

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