On January 21, 2013, the moon swept near the planet Jupiter. North Americans were particularly well-placed to see the moon and Jupiter very close together in the evening sky. In fact, as seen from the U.S. and Canada, this was the closest the moon and Jupiter will appear in our sky until the year 2026. It was a waxing gibbous moon – more than half-lighted but less than full – that passed less than a degree to the south of Jupiter last night. The pairing was very beautiful, as seen from around the globe, not only on January 21 but also on January 19 and 20, and for several nights before that as well. And don’t forget to look on January 22!
Why is such a bright moon passing Jupiter around now? Earth went between the sun and Jupiter on December 3; this was Jupiter’s yearly opposition. So Jupiter was opposite the sun in early December, 2012. Likewise, when it is nearly or totally opposite the sun, the moon appears in a brightly illuminated phase as seen from Earth (learn how to understand moon phases here). So for some months before and after early December, we on Earth have been seeing a bright moon near Jupiter for a few days every month. EarthSky friends from around the world began posting moon-Jupiter photos on our Facebook page, beginning in late 2012. They show the moon getting closer to Jupiter, then farther away again, then closer and farther again, as the moon pursues its monthly orbit around Earth. Enjoy them! In every photo, Jupiter is the brightest starlike object visible.
Bottom line: The giant planet Jupiter – largest planet in our solar system – is easy to spot because it’s the brightest starlike object in the sky seen from across the globe, from sunset until late at night. In the second half of January 2013, we all can watch at the moon edges toward Jupiter until – on January 21, 2013 – we in the U.S. and Canada see the moon and Jupiter the closest they’ll appear until the year 2026. This post contains many photos of the moon and Jupiter as seen in the last months of 2012. Enjoy them, and enjoy the sky.
Deborah Byrd created the EarthSky radio series in 1991 and founded EarthSky.org in 1994. Today, she serves as Editor-in-Chief of this website. She has won a galaxy of awards from the broadcasting and science communities, including having an asteroid named 3505 Byrd in her honor. A science communicator and educator since 1976, Byrd believes in science as a force for good in the world and a vital tool for the 21st century. "Being an EarthSky editor is like hosting a big global party for cool nature-lovers," she says.
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