We go between the sun and Jupiter June 10

Our planet Earth flies between the sun and the outer planet Jupiter on June 10, 2019. Our faster motion places Jupiter – largest world in our solar system, and a very bright planet in our sky – opposite the sun about once each year. In other words, Jupiter is now rising in the east as the sun is setting below the western horizon. Astronomers call this event an opposition of Jupiter.

Opposition marks the middle of the best time of year to see a planet. That’s because it’s when the planet is up all night and generally closest for the year (the exact date of Jupiter at its closest this year is June 12).

Read more: Why is Jupiter closest after we go between it and the sun?

Around the time of opposition is an excellent time to photograph Jupiter. Patrick Prokop in Savannah, Georgia, caught this image around last year’s opposition on May 7, 2018.

Jupiter (red) completes one orbit of the sun (center) for every 11.86 orbits of the Earth (blue). Our orbit is smaller, and we move faster! Animation via Wikimedia Commons.

Rising in the east around sunset, Jupiter climbs highest in the sky at midnight. (By midnight, we mean midway between sunset and sunrise.) It sets in the west around sunrise. Jupiter is always bright; it’s the largest planet in our solar system. It shines more brightly than any star in the evening sky.

With the exception of the sun and moon, only Venus – the brightest planet, now low in the east before sunrise – outshines Jupiter. Try catching both Venus and Jupiter at morning dawn. Venus will be blazing low in the east while Jupiter will sitting low in the west. You’ll need an unobstructed horizon in both directions to see both Venus and Jupiter before sunrise.

At this 2019 opposition, Jupiter shines in the vicinity of Antares, the brightest star in the constellation Scorpius the Scales. There’s no way to mistake Antares for Jupiter, though, because dazzling Jupiter outshines this 1st-magnitude star by nearly thirty times.

Sky chart of the constellation Ophiuchus

Let Jupiter be your guide to the constellation Ophiuchus in 2019. Next year, in 2020, Jupiter will serve as your guide to the constellation Sagittarius. Sky chart via the IAU.

Technically, Jupiter is just north (above) the northern border of Scorpius. Jupiter presently lights up the constellation Ophiuchus the Serpent Holder and will continue to do so till nearly the end of the year. Next year, in 2020, Jupiter will be in front of the constellation Sagittarius the Archer.

Jupiter comes to opposition about every 13 months. That’s how long Earth takes to travel once around the sun relative to Jupiter. As a result – according to our earthly calendars – Jupiter’s opposition comes about a month later each year.

Last year – in 2018 – Jupiter’s opposition date was May 9.

Next year – in 2020 – it’ll be July 14.

Astronomer Guy Ottewell has a great post at his blog on Jupiter’s oppositions in 2017, 2018 and 2019. Note on the charts below (used with Guy’s permission) that Jupiter at opposition shifts one constellation eastward each year:

April 7, 2017 opposition: Virgo

May 9, 2018 opposition: Libra

June 10, 2019 opposition: Ophiuchus

Jupiter’s path across the sky and opposition dates, 2017-2018, via Guy Ottewell’s blog.

Jupiter’s path across the sky and opposition dates, 2018-2019, via Guy Ottewell’s blog.

Jupiter isn’t a rocky planet like Earth. It’s more like a failed star, not massive enough or hot enough inside to spark thermonuclear fusion reactions, but some 2.5 times more massive than all the other planets in our solar system combined. Jupiter shows us nature magnified!

There’s a NASA spacecraft orbiting Jupiter now. The Juno spacecraft’s orbit carries it low over Jupiter’s poles, providing never-before-seen glimpses of the giant planet’s polar regions. NASA has asked citizen scientists to help process Juno’s images. NASA explained at its JunoCam image processing gallery:

We invite you to download [the raw images], do your own image processing, and we encourage you to upload your creations for us to enjoy and share. The types of image processing we’d love to see range from simply cropping an image to highlighting a particular atmospheric feature, as well as adding your own color enhancements, creating collages and adding advanced color reconstruction.

Here’s a recent image, processed by a citizen scientist:

Bottom line: Look for Jupiter on the night of June 10, 2019, as this world comes to opposition, the point opposite the sun in our sky. You’d need some 80 Jupiters – rolled into a ball – to be hot enough inside for thermonuclear reactions … for Jupiter to shine as stars do. Yet on this May night – as Jupiter rises opposite the sun – you can imagine it beaming down on us as a tiny sun all night long.

Read more: How to see Jupiter’s moons

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Deborah Byrd