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By Jove! Jupiter to make closest approach to Earth in 70 years next Monday

Gas giant to come within just 365 million miles. Viewing conditions will be ideal even if you only have binoculars

Next Monday, September 26, Jupiter will be the closest to Earth it has been for in 70 years.

At its furthest, the planet is around 965.5 million kilometers (600 million miles) from Earth. Next Monday day, it will be approximately 587 million kilometers (365 million miles) away, thanks to both Earth and Jupiter’s positions in their respective orbits bringing them closer to each other than usual.

Coinciding with this moment is a phenomenon called “opposition” that means Jupiter will not just be close to Earth, but ready for a close-up. A planet is in opposition when its placement is on opposite sides of the Earth from the sun – rising in the east as the Sun sets in the west. This occurs every 13 months for Jupiter, and when it does, the planet appears to be both larger and brighter.

The planet will be so close that viewers will be able to see at least the central band and three or four of its moons with good binoculars.

As research astrophysicist at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center Adam Kobelski pointed out, Galileo Galilei observed them with 17th century technology.

“One of the key needs will be a stable mount for whatever system you use,” said Kobelski, who added that a four inch-or-larger telescope and some filters in the green to blue range would mean Jupiter's features become visbile in even greater detail.

“Outside of the Moon, it should be one of the (if not the) brightest objects in the night sky.” said the astrophysicist.

Those on the hunt for the gas giant will do best by looking from a high elevation in a dark and dry area. The date they observe Jupiter, however, has some flexibility.

“The views should be great for a few days before and after Sept. 26,” said Kobelski, who advised viewers to pick a date a few days before or after next Monday when the weather is best.

Some stargazing enthusiasts are already managing to collect clear images of the planet, like this one from a Celestron 11-inch XLT that we found on Amazon at $3,999.

Jupiter is the largest planet in the solar system. It’s stripes and swirls are the visual result of clouds of ammonia and water mingling in an atmosphere of hydrogen and helium. Seventy-nine moons have been detected as satellites of the planet, of which 53 have been named. ®

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