|Volume: 04, Issue: 18||05/03/2006|
Jupiter ShinesJupiter puts on a great show as spring temperatures warm the United States.
Ascending to his throne, the king of planets rules May nights. The giant planet Jupiter reaches opposition – the point in its orbit opposite the Sun as seen from Earth – May 4, 2006. On that date, it appears bigger and brighter than at any other time this year. The planet lies in the southeast as darkness falls and will be the brightest object in the sky until Venus rises before dawn. Its bright, steady light and pale peach color may disguise Jupiter to some as a distant plane’s landing light.
Throughout 2006, Jupiter looms in front of the stars of the faint constellation Libra the Scales. For observers in mid-northern latitudes, this means the planet will not climb high in the sky. At opposition, Jupiter’s altitude maximizes at midnight CDT, when the planet stands about 40 degrees above the horizon (roughly halfway up in the sky) in the south.
Second only to the Moon, Jupiter ranks as the celestial object with the greatest observable detail. Even small telescopes show its four large moons, which appear as bright “stars” on either side of Jupiter. Usually seen in a straight line, these satellites occasionally assume triangular and other arrangements.
Looking at the planet through a telescope, you will first see a pair of dark stripes. These stripes – one above and one below the equator – are the North and South Equatorial Belts. Through larger telescopes and with higher magnifications, more dark belts and bright zones come into view.
Jupiter continues to be visible easily in the evening sky through October. Each evening between opposition and then, Jupiter appears slightly farther to the west. On November 21, Jupiter lines up with the Sun (a configuration called conjunction) and is invisible from our point of view.
Observers out admiring Jupiter may spot some shooting stars. These streaks of light are part of the Eta Aquarid meteor shower that peaks before dawn May 5.
Here are some quick facts about Jupiter:
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Space Explorers Mission: Solar System subscribers can also read more about Jupiter and the other planets by visiting our Space Library at www.space-explorers.com.
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