I’ve always loved Jupiter! I love how bright it is in the night sky – fourth brightest after the Sun, Moon and Venus. I love that we can watch the moons dance around the gassy giant. We can even, at times, see the beautiful shadow transit of the moons crossing the face of the planet. Of course there’s the big red spot, that cyclonic storm on Jupiter that’s been raging for over 400 years. It’s big enough to fit three earths inside of it. I’ve never seen the big red spot through a telescope – but this could be the year!
Jupiter will be at opposition in December, which means that the earth is directly in between the sun and Jupiter. Jupiter will be as close as it can get, making it a great target for viewing. I’ve seen it through my small 90mm refractor, and I’ve been able to see the bands. This year I’d like to go for that spot! Sky and Telecope has a Red Spot transit calculator if you’re interested in giving it a try. Let me know if you were successful!
Red spot aside, I’ve always thought of Jupiter as the ‘big brother’ of the solar system. It’s gravitational pull protects the earth from wayward debris. For example in 1994 comet Shoemaker Levy 9 plowed into the gas giant. This was not an isolated incident, it happens quite frequently. In fact another impact was caught by an amateur astronomer in Wisconsin while observing Jupiter (you never know what you’ll see!!) in September of this year. I know that some would argue that Jupiter in fact causes some of the debris to head our way due to it’s gravitational pull, but I choose to look at it as though it’s our protector.
For me, seeing my old friend Jupiter in the night sky is comforting, like a warm cup of cocoa or a fleece blanket. It gives me a warm fuzzy just seeing it hanging there among the stars.