On October 29 (UT), Jupiter, the solar system’s largest planet, will be at opposition, opposite the Sun in planet Earth’s sky, shining brightly and rising as the Sun sets. That configuration results in Jupiter’s almost annual closest approach to planet Earth, so near opposition the gas giant offers earthbound telescopes stunning views of its stormy, banded atmosphere and large Galilean moons.

This sharp snapshot of Jupiter was captured on October 13 with the 1 meter telescope at the Pic Du Midi mountain top observatory in the French Pyrenees. North is up in the image that shows off oval shaped vortices and planet girdling dark belts and light zones. Also seen in remarkable detail, Jupiter’s icy Ganymede, the solar system’s largest moon, is emerging from behind the planet (top) while volcanic Io enters the frame near the lower left edge.

A Solar System body at opposition, on the opposite side of the Earth from the Sun:


A Solar System body, such as a planet, comet or asteroid, is at opposition when it is on the opposite side of the Earth from the Sun. The elongation of a Solar System body at opposition is 180 degrees.
The inferior planets, or other objects with orbits closer to the Sun than the Earth, can never be at opposition.Searches for new faint Solar System objects, such as Kuiper Belt Objects and asteroids, often attempt to find these objects at opposition when they will have their maximum illumination by the Sun (i.e. their phase, if discernable, will be full).


The New Horizons spacecraft took some stunning images of Jupiter on its way out to Pluto. Famous for its Great Red Spot, Jupiter is also known for its regular, equatorial cloud bands, visible through even modest sized telescopes. The above image, horizontally compressed, was taken in 2007 near Jupiter’s terminator and shows the Jovian giant’s wide diversity of cloud patterns. On the far left are clouds closest to Jupiter’s South Pole.


- See also: