An audience with King Jupiter

RoyalAuto magazine

Jupiter, king of the planets, is about to have a starring role in our skies. Astronomer Perry Vlahos explains where to see it.

Photos: NASA
August 2018


There are a lot of stars! 

Occasionally two big stars come together and attract the eyes and attention of the world. No, not like Tom and Nicole, or Brad and Angelina; the ones I’m talking about perform in the sky, not on a screen.

This has been a bumper year with all five naked eye planets – Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn, all managing to get starring roles above our heads at one time or another. However, it’s not always easy to confidently pick them out. Even Jupiter – king of the planets, isn’t obvious if you’re a novice stargazer.

Despite the enormity of the heavens, mid month there’ll be an opportunity to spot and positively identify mighty Jove, because of a fortuitous conjunction with the moon. A ‘conjunction’ is astronomer speak for two celestial bodies getting close together. 

Hmm, still sounds like Hollywood, doesn’t it? 

Jupiter is incredibly large; so enormous that 1300 Earths could fit inside it. In fact, all the other planets of the solar system would fit inside with room to spare. Furthermore, it has the most moons with a new batch of 12 recently discovered and bringing the total up to 79.

It’s Earth’s single natural satellite, though, that will shine a light on which of the bright lights in the sky is Jupiter, by paying a call on the king on the nights of 13, 14 and 15 September.

On 13 September, straight after sunset look toward the north-west sky high above the horizon. There you’ll find a beautiful crescent moon; to its left shining very brightly will be Venus, but above the moon, not quite as bright as Venus but bright nevertheless, will be Jupiter. 

The following night on 14 September, Luna will have moved much closer to Jupiter – which will be found to its left, and should make an eye-catching vista. The next night, 15 September, the moon will have climbed higher, creating a straight line with the two brightest planets in the night sky.

With the better spring weather here, get outside and enjoy the show.

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