The magnificence of Jupiter

Jupiter. Photo: File
Jupiter. Photo: File
A brightly shining Jupiter is worth getting up early for, writes Ian Griffin.

Every day, before dawn, I head out for a walk with my entirely mad springer spaniel, Connie.

Our early-morning Portobello amble is a chance for Connie to rid herself of some of the enormous springer energy that builds up overnight, while for me, our perambulation is a chance to keep up with what's going on in the sky.

Ian Griffin
Ian Griffin
With Connie constantly sniffing the ground and me gazing upwards, I'm sure any observers think we make a very curious couple.

Recently, there has been only one object that has caught my attention. It is Jupiter, which is unmistakably bright and can be found almost 70 degrees above the northern horizon at sunrise.

This week, the planet is more than 780 million kilometres away, which means that the light you see when you look at the planet left Jupiter just over 43 minutes ago.

Last weekend, I was using one of the telescopes at the University of Canterbury's Mount John Observatory for an observing project, and, in the early morning after a long night, I exhausted my observing list of dim galaxies. I wandered out from the dome, to take a final look at the sky.

There was Jupiter, shining brilliantly almost overhead in the inky black Mackenzie sky. I knew what I had to do. I ran back inside the dome, and quickly pointed the telescope, which had a powerful camera attached, towards the gas giant planet. As an image of Jupiter appeared on my computer monitor, l gasped in astonishment.

The night was so still, and the sky so clear, that the view was absolutely magnificent. For a few moments I gazed in awe at the sight. The planet's disc was crossed by linear belts, and on each belt were astonishingly complex whirls and ovals. I snapped a few pictures, which I share with you above.

They really don't do justice to the magnificence of the beautiful planet, so if you do have access to a telescope, do get up early sometime in the next few weeks and turn it towards Jupiter. You will not be disappointed.

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