‘Stonkingly bright’: Jupiter closest to Earth, easily seen in NZ sky

Jupiter planet and its moons rise in L’Aquila, Italy, in opposition to the sun as it makes its closest approach to the Earth since 1963.

Between meteor showers and satellites, there’s no shortage of bright spots in Aotearoa’s night sky.

But this morning there was an extra brilliant sparkle – Jupiter.

The gas giant, the solar system’s largest planet, is the closest it has been to Earth in 59 years – a mere 591 million km away.

Stardome astronomer and Otago Museum director Dr Ian Griffin told Morning Report it was a cosmic sight anyone could easily see.

“I’m down here in Ōtepoti Dunedin and looking across the harbor from my home, I can see Jupiter very nice in the sky.

“It really is stonkingly bright at the moment. It’s very, very impressive.”

The phenomenon will last just a few more days.

“Over the next few nights, actually, it’s not just today.

“You go out tonight when the sun sets in the eastern sky you’ll see it rising and at the moment it’s setting in the west. You really can’t miss it.”

While Jupiter is 996 million km away from us at its farthest, right now it is the closest it ever gets in its orbit. This means it can be seen with the naked eye.

“It’s just really bright because it’s relatively close to us.

“But if you got a pair of binoculars or even a small telescope you can see some really interesting detail on Jupiter.

“With binoculars you can see its four major moons, Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto, which were discovered by Galileo in 1610. They’re really easy to see and they can’t be missed.

“With a telescope, if you have one of those telescopes you might have got for Christmas a few years ago, if you get it out and point it at Jupiter, you can see its cloud belts and even its Great Red Spot, which is a storm that’s been raging for about 400 years. “

“If you ever had an idea of ​​maybe doing some astronomy, now’s the time to go out and do it I think.”

Stargazers in Aotearoa and around the world picked up cameras to capture the moment.

But if you miss the window to see it, you may have to wait a while – the next time Jupiter is this close is not until 2129.


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