The return of Jupiter after dark this week. (196319004) An exciting spring and summer of stargazing – or should I say, the planet is watching – lies ahead as four neighboring worlds prepare to scatter their heavenly possessions.
Right now, someone is stepping outside At dusk, the brilliant planet Venus will glisten in the western sky. It will be there all summer long, and believe it or not, it will be twice as bright in September.
Then there's everyone's favorite planet, Saturn, who is not in our early evening sky, but will be over in late June. It will give those who even have a small backyard telescope a close-up of its remarkably beautiful ring system.
By the end of July, the red planet Mars will be a breathtaking sight in our night sky when it reaches its closest point to Earth in the last 1
And then there is the giant planet Jupiter. This magnificent world is just in our evening sky and will reach its official opposition point on the night of May 8th. Not only when the planet appears in our sky to the sun (rising in the east at sunset and remaining visible all night long); it is also when it is closest to the earth and therefore appears larger and brighter than at any other time in its orbit.
So Jupiter, who is always impressive to see through a small telescope, will be particularly impressive this month. In fact, it will be quite a sight during most of the summer.
Jupiter has always been one of my favorites because it's a planet that actually seems to be changing pretty fast. Here is a world that is 11 times the diameter of the Earth, but it rotates once every 10 hours around its axis. This means that the Earth side completely changes in just five hours. With patience, early evening sky watchers can use a small telescope to easily observe their pastel cloud bands and sometimes even their Great Red Spot in a single long starry sky.
Perhaps the most beautiful part of observing this planet is the antics of its four largest moons. These are known as the Galilean satellites – Io, Europe, Ganymede and Callisto – because it was the Italian astronomer Galileo who discovered them and their movements about four hundred years ago.
These seem to be doing around the planet and changing their positions from night to night – sometimes even by the hour!
Enjoy watching these moons know all their names. You can identify them by searching for an app for your smartphone or tablet, or click here for more information from Sky & Telescope. You can click here to learn more about these incredible moons and their amazing parenting world in Nine Planets.
Now that Jupiter has returned to our early evening sky, try to direct a telescope in his direction or contact your local Astronomy Club or the Science Museum to learn when a free "Star Party" will be held. so that you can get a close-up of this exciting giant planet.
Yes, indeed it will be another great spring and summer of planetary view!
– Dennis Mammana is an astronomy writer, author, lecturer, and photographer working under the clear, dark skies of the Anza Borrego Desert in the backcountry of San Diego County. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter: @dennismammana . Click here to read the previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.