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How To Catch A Glimpse Of Jupiter This Sunday

May 11, 2013 04:52 PM EDT
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Mother Nature is celebrating Mother's Day in full fashion this year with a clear view of Jupiter this Sunday.

The planet will appear as a white point of light to the unaided eye, and while it may not seem much different from surrounding stars, it will shine bright enough to be visible even from many of the nation's major cities.

To locate the Solar System’s largest planet, astronomers recommend looking to the right of the Moon and then just a little below that. In all, the space between the Moon and Jupiter will measure about 5 degrees or roughly half the size of a clenched fist.

To the left of the Moon and Jupiter, one will also be able to spot a “twinkling” Betelgeuse.

Besides Venus, which is visible for just an hour after sunset, Jupiter is the brightest object in that region of the night sky, though its distance of 895 million kilometers and low altitude both dim it.

What’s more, later this month Jupiter will take part in an unusual planet trio with Mercury and Venus when all three will appear in the same area of the sky. The event will last for nearly a week and come to a dramatic end when Jupiter passes within 1 degree of Venus on May 28, just days before disappearing completely.

According to NASA, Earth-Jupiter encounters take place every 13 months when the Earth laps the massive gas giant in the race around the Sun.

However, because the planets’ orbits are not perfect circles, they do not always cross paths at the same distance. During fall 2010, for example, Earth and Jupiter passed closer to each other than they had in more than a decade, shaving off a total of 75 million kilometers.

The next time the two will come that close is 2022 at which point Jupiter will be the brightest object in the sky save the Moon only.

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