Binocular Observing: Jupiter

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Aptly named after the Ancient Roman king of the gods, Jupiter dominates the other planets in stature. It is roughly 1,300 times bigger than the Earth. Its staggering size makes it a promising target for binoculars, in spite of its incredible distance from us. Jupiter’s tempestuous surface is composed almost entirely of gas under extreme pressure, agitated by the Sun, orbital motion, and the planet’s own core.

Surface features

Through binoculars, Jupiter is visible as a prominently large bright circle. Magnifications of 50x and higher can catch beautiful stripes across the planet, as well as the Great Red Spot, a gargantuan storm on the planet’s surface three times as big as the Earth.

Sufficient dark adaptation reveals the four Galilean moons – Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto. These are visible as four bright spots in a straight line around the planet, and change positions when observed over the course of a few nights.

Observing times

Depending on where Jupiter is in its orbit around the Sun, it appears at different times of the year in the night sky. Check timeanddate.com/astronomy/night/ to see when it rises and sets, and the best times to view it.


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