Friday, July 11, 2008

BIG THINGS in the night sky

July is shaping up to be an exciting month in the sky! This week, the giant planet Jupiter is at its closest point to the earth and clearly visible in the night sky:
"The fireworks may be finished, but some elaborate light shows still await you in the July sky. Jupiter reaches what's called "opposition" -- meaning it and the sun are on opposite sides of the Earth -- on Wednesday night. Put simply, it'll be the biggest and brightest thing in the sky all night long. Then, a day later, Saturn and Mars will put on a spectacle of their own." [...]

July is a big month for the so-called "king of the planets." Wednesday marks Jupiter's closest point ever to Earth, and that means it'll be at its best visibility -- shining eight times as brightly as the next brightest star.

"Just as the full moon ... rises every month just at sunset and sets at dawn, so does Jupiter when it is at opposition," NASA Latest News about NASA Senior Outreach Specialist Jane Houston Jones told TechNewsWorld. "Jupiter is always brighter than the brightest star whenever it is visible in our sky."

All month, the giant planet will be particularly noticeable -- if you know where to look.

Although it was closest on Wednesday, that being only two days ago it should still be easily observable. Look to the south sky just after sunset tonight, about a third-to-halfway up, in the constellation Sagittarius. It should be the biggest and brightest star in the vicinity. Cool!