Jupiter comes to opposition — meaning opposite the Sun in the sky — on Friday, April 7th, rising in the east near sunset and remaining visible all night long. Around opposition, Jupiter is at its closest to the Earth for the year – and also at its brightest and biggest when observed through telescopes.
This year, however, happens to be the one when Jupiter is nearest to aphelion, the farthest point from the Sun in its 12-year circuit. (Jupiter reached aphelion on Feb. 16th). But Jupiter is a giant planet in a rather circular orbit. That means that even at this farthest opposition Jupiter still shines at a generous -2.5 magnitude, less than a half magnitude dimmer and about 12-percent less wide than at its closest oppositions.
If you wait until late evening to observe Jupiter on any night this month, you will find at least a few darkish horizontal belts in small telescopes and a plethora of details on its cloudy face in medium-size (6-or 8 inch) instruments. During April, Jupiter drifts northwest in Virgo, moving away from the 1st-magnitude star Spica.
And Monday night, April 10th, the Moon, which will be just hours from turning full, will lie only a couple of degrees to the lower left of Jupiter as the two rise in the east-southeast as darkness falls.
If you catch a photo of the pair, share it with us on our Facebook page!