Separately, the two conditions are not exceptionally rare. Jupiter reaches opposition every 13 months, making the gas giant appear bigger and brighter than at any other time of the year. It also makes its closest approach to Earth, as it shows larger, approximately every 12 years, the amount of time it takes a planet to orbit the sun. The overlap between the two events is a physical game and won’t happen again until 2139.
“This is one of the fun things about living on a moving planet,” said Michelle Thaler, an astronomer at NASA. “Everything is lined up to make Jupiter the largest you’ve seen in the sky for the past 59 years.”
Perhaps amateur astronomers notice the differences more than others, Thaler said. Using binoculars or a telescope, people will be able to observe the minute details of Jupiter, including its ranges, and three or four Galilean moons, according to NASA. Sky investigators must find high altitudes, dark skies, and dry weather to get the best view.
Telescopes in space will also be able to capture a better view of the gas giant over the next two months, Thaler said. The recently launched James Webb Space Telescope captured an extraordinary picture of the planet in great detail. The image, created from several vehicles, shows an aurora borealis over Jupiter’s north and south poles. The famous Great Red Spot, a large rotating storm that can swallow the Earth, appears white because it reflects so much sunlight.
Jupiter has always fascinated astronomers, as much as it can provide clues to the early history of the Earth. Jupiter was probably the first planet to form in our solar system, created from gas and dust leftovers from the formation of the Sun about 4.6 billion years ago. During this time, the large and heavy planet swung through the inner solar system and destroyed other new planets that formed in its path. Debris from destroyed infant planets was some building material for Venus, Earth, Mars and Mercury.
Thaler said that Jupiter may also be responsible for much of the water on our planet. As Jupiter was moving through the inner solar system, it may have delivered some of the water that fills our oceans today. Much of Earth’s surface water, Thaler said, “may have been brought in by Jupiter and taken with it a lot of icy material from the outer solar system.”
For galactic explorers, Jupiter’s moon Europa is also one of the most likely places to find life in our solar system, beyond Earth. An icy moon can possess the three components necessary for life: water, energy, and chemistry.
As Jupiter makes its own rare approach and opposition, admire one of the biggest physical reasons we’re here. “There are a lot of wonderful things about Jupiter,” Thaler said. “You will look especially big and bright for the next couple of weeks. It will be just beautiful.”
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