by William J. Bechaver • · from 10 May 2018
The planets are coming into excellent view now in our night sky, and it just so happens it’s perfect timing with our spring and summer weather here on Earth.
Jupiter is at its best viewing of the year right now.
The massive gas giant is at a point in the sky known as opposition. This means it is exactly opposite the Sun in our sky, which means it rises in the east when the Sun is setting, and sets in the west just as the Sun is rising.
It also means Jupiter is on the same side of the Sun as the Earth, and when it is directly opposite the Sun, it lies closest to us, which means better viewing from Earth.
Right now, Jupiter is a mere 5.41 Astronomical Units from Earth, or over 503 billion miles distant. An Astronomical Unit is the distance from the Earth to the Sun, so Jupiter is nearly five and a half times more distant than are we from the Sun.
Still, being so far out there it takes light more than 45 minutes to reach Earth from Jupiter, and yet, that’s the closest we’re going to come to the largest planet in our solar system.
Right now, Mars is 72 million miles from Earth. That is much closer than we are from the Sun.
Over the next couple of months, we will see the distance be reduced as we travel faster in our orbit, and will overtake the red planet in late July.
Then, when Mars is at opposition, closest to Earth than any other planet, we will take a closer look at Mars, and explore more closely our sister planet. The planet some from Earth may one day call “home”.
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• · William J. Bechaver is the director of SPACE • Spanish Peaks Amateur Cosmos Enthusiasts, the premier Astronomical Society for Southern Colorado and Northern New Mexico.