What is that bright “star” in the East in the evening, a sight that hasn’t been seen since 1963

A light for weeks brilliant has drawn attention to itself, low in the eastern evening sky: it shines with a silvery glow and, when it rises higher, in the East-South / East part of the sky, it becomes the undisputed protagonist. It is not one starbut of a planetwhich takes its name from the king of the gods: Jupiter.

These days are especially auspicious, as we will see the gas giant become bigger and brighter than ever from our Earth observation point, because it is approaching perihelionthat is, the point (in its 12-year orbit) that places it closest to the Sun.

Jupiter now appears larger than11% and more than one and a half times more light than it was in April 2017, when it was near aphelion (the point of its orbit furthest from the Sun). The opposition is also approaching (September 26): in this period it is in the sky all night, from dusk to dawn.


Also on September 26, Jupiter will be at the closest point to Earth since 1963. It will be 591,168,168 km away. It may not look exactly “close,” but it is so large and bright that not only is it easily visible to the naked eye, with a small telescope it appears as large as the Moon to the naked eye.

A giant among giants

Jupiter it has a diameter almost 11 times that of the Earth (142,984 km). It takes nearly 12 years to complete a trip around the sun.

Jupiter’s year is long, but its day is short. The great planet completes a rotation in just under 10 hours. For a planet of this size, this speed of rotation is surprising. A point on Jupiter’s equator moves at a speed of 35,400 km / h compared to 1,600 km / h for a point on the Earth’s equator. The rapid speed of rotation gives Jupiter the appearance of a slightly flattened ball. It has a rocky core encased in a thick mantle of metallic hydrogen wrapped in a massive atmospheric mantle of multicolored ammonium hydrosulfide clouds.

Jupiter is a gigantic planet, with a mass more than double that of all the other 7 planets combined. It has one of the most mysterious spots on the face of any planet: the Great Red Spotwhich comes and goes unpredictably, and is as wide as the Earth.

earth jupiter
Artistic illustration that combines an image of Jupiter made by the JunoCam of the Juno spacecraft with a composition of the Earth superimposed in scale on the Great Red Spot. Credits: JunoCam Image data: NASA / JPL-Caltech / SwRI / MSSS JunoCam Image processing by Kevin M. Gill (CC BY) Earth Image: NASA

Jupiter loses more thermal energy by radiation than it acquires from the Sun: it follows that it could produce energy by itself, an activity normally more characteristic of a star than of a planet.

It also possesses a weak system of ringsalthough unlike Saturn’s, highly reflective because they are made of ice, Jupiter’s rings are mainly made up of a myriad of tiny dust particles.

Like Earth, Jupiter has a magnetic field: a vast donut-shaped belt of electrically charged particles surrounding the planet, a Van Allen-like ring of charged solar particles held captive by the Earth’s magnetic field.

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About Alex Marcell

He likes dogs, pizza and popcorn. Already a fanboy of Nintendo and Sony, but today throws anything. He has collaborated on sites and magazines such as GameBlast, Nintendo World, Hero and Portal Pop, but today is dedicated exclusively to Spark Chronicles.

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