Jupiter appears the largest and brightest on Earth in 59 years on Monday

Starting this weekend, skywatchers will see a rare sight of Jupiter’s enormity as it appears the biggest and brightest in decades. Jupiter will be one of the brightest, if not the brightest, natural objects in the night sky.

On Sunday, Jupiter will reach its closest distance to Earth in 59 years at around 367 million miles. On Monday, the gas giant will reach opposition, meaning it will appear opposite the sun relative to those on Earth. Jupiter will rise in the east while the sun will set in the west. Both events will cause Jupiter to appear brighter and larger in the sky, with the best views Monday evening, according to NASA. However, the planet will appear slightly larger and brighter over the next few weeks.

Separately, the two occurrences are not exceptionally rare. Jupiter reaches opposition every 13 months, making the gas giant appear larger and brighter than at any other time of the year. It also makes its closest approach to Earth, appearing larger approximately every 12 years the time the planet takes to orbit the sun. The overlap of the two events is a game of physics and won’t happen again until 2139.

“It’s one of the fun things about living on a moving planet,” said NASA astronomer Michelle Thaller. “Everything is in place to make Jupiter the largest you will see in the sky in the past 59 years.”

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Amateur astronomers will likely notice the differences the most, Thaller said. Using binoculars or a telescope, people will be able to observe the finer details of Jupiter, including its bands, and three or four of its Galilean moons, according to NASA. Sky watchers should find high altitude, dark skies and dry weather for best visibility.

Space telescopes will also be able to capture a better view of the gas giant over the next two months, Thaller said. The recently launched James Webb Space Telescope has already captured an exceptional image of the planet in remarkable detail. The image, created from multiple composites, shows auroras over Jupiter’s north and south poles. The famous Great Red Spot, a large spinning storm that could swallow Earth, and its clouds appear white because they reflect a lot of sunlight.

Jupiter has long fascinated astronomers because it could provide clues to Earth’s early history. Jupiter was probably the first planet to form in our solar system, created from leftover gas and dust from the formation of the sun around 4.6 billion years ago. During this time, the large and heavy planet passed through the inner solar system and destroyed other new planets forming in its path. Debris from destroyed fledgling planets was part of the building materials of Venus, Earth, Mars and Mercury.

Thaller said Jupiter may also be responsible for much of the water on our planet. As Jupiter moved through the inner solar system, it could have provided some of the water that fills our oceans today. Much of the surface water on Earth “may have been brought in by Jupiter coming in and taking with it much of the icy stuff from the outer solar system,” Thaller said.

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For galactic explorers, Jupiter’s moon Europa is also one of the most likely places to find life in our solar system, outside of Earth. The icy moon could possess the three ingredients necessary for life: water, energy and chemistry.

As Jupiter makes its rare approach and opposition, admire one of the biggest physical reasons we’re here. “There are so many interesting things about Jupiter,” Thaller said. “It will be particularly big and bright over the next few weeks. It will be simply beautiful.

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