The night sky's shining light

If you have a telescope Jupiter is definitely worth a look, because even the smallest optical aid reveals extraordinary and ever-changing details of the big planet, Ian Griffin writes.

Ian Griffin
Ian Griffin

It's getting harder and harder to ignore Jupiter, which rises just after 10pm.

You really can't miss it, since Jupiter appears brighter than any star in the firmament and shines a distinct yellow/white colour. Once it clears the treetops, Jupiter remains visible all night, and by 6am will be a prominent object high in the northern sky.

As viewed from Earth, Jupiter at present appears to be slap bang in the middle of the constellation Libra (the Scales), which although quite dim and indistinct, contains two splendidly named stars, Zubeneschamali (from an Arabic word meaning northern claw) and Zubenelgenubi (from an Arabic word meaning the southern claw). Before Libra became a constellation in its own right, it used to be regarded as the claws of the constellation Scorpius.

Jupiter. Photo: File
Jupiter. Photo: File
Jupiter is absolutely fascinating. The largest planet in our solar system is a gas giant planet which is over 11 times the diameter of Earth. In fact, Jupiter is so big that you could fit over 1300 Earth-sized planets inside it. Although Jupiter is much bigger than Earth, it rotates much faster; a ``day'' at Jupiter is less than 10 hours!

This week the distance between Jupiter and Earth is almost exactly 725,000,000km, which means the light you see when you look at the planet, travelling at over 300,000km every second, has taken just over 40min to reach your eyes!

If you have a telescope, Jupiter is definitely worth perusing, because even the smallest optical aid reveals extraordinary and ever-changing details in the planet's cloud belts.

One of the most interesting features of Jupiter's atmosphere is the Great Red Spot. The spot is an Earth-sized storm that has been regularly observed for over two centuries. Because it has been observed for so long, it's possible to accurately predict when you can see the Red Spot from Earth, and one such time is at 4am tomorrow. .

If clouds stay away, why not try to spot the largest and oldest storm in our solar system for yourself.

Add a Comment