Jupiter dominates the evening sky this month, rising at sunset and setting at dawn. On March 8, Jupiter reaches what is called “opposition”. Imagine that Jupiter and the sun are at opposite ends of a straight line, with the Earth in between. This brings Jupiter its closest to Earth, so it shines brighter and appears larger in telescopes.
On the nights of March 14 – 15, March 21 – 22 and March 29, two of Jupiter’s moons will cross the planet’s disk.
When the planet is at opposition and the sun shines on Jupiter’s moons, we can see the moon’s shadow crossing the planet. There are actually 11 of these double shadow transits in March!
The next six months will be awesome times for you to image Jupiter when it’s highest in the sky; near midnight now, and a little earlier each night through the late summer.
Even through the smallest telescopes or binoculars, you should be able to see the two prominent belts on each side of Jupiter’s equator made up of the four Galilean moons: Io, Europa Ganymede and Calisto. If you have a good enough view, you may even see Jupiter’s Red Spot!
Our Juno spacecraft will arrive at Jupiter on July 4th of this year and will go into orbit around the giant planet. Right now, the Juno mission science team is actively seeking amateur and professional images of the planet. These images are uploaded to a Juno website, and the public is invited to discuss points of interest in Jupiter’s atmosphere.
Locations will later be voted on and the favorites will be targets for JunoCam, the spacecraft’s imaging camera. Once JunoCam has taken the images, they’ll be posted online. Imaging participants can then process these raw mission images and re-upload them for others to view.
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