Telescopes, binoculars, and warm blankets will come in handy Monday night as New Englanders will — weather permitting — be able to see Jupiter on its closest approach to Earth in 59 years, according to NASA.
Jupiter will also reach opposition Monday night, which makes the planet seem brighter and larger than during the rest of the year, NASA said in a statement. Opposition is when an astronomical object rises in the east as the sun sets in the west, which for Jupiter happens every 13 months.
Opposition, plus Jupiter’s rare proximity, creates an opportune moment — one where a planet is easily visible to the naked eye.
“Because Earth’s and Jupiter’s orbits aren’t perfectly circular, there are points where [the planets] are a little closer to each other,” said Quinn Sykes, the manager of Boston University’s Coit Observatory. “Jupiter has its own orbit and we’ve got ours — they just happened to mesh up right now, closer than usual.”
At its closest approach to Earth, Jupiter will be about 367 million miles from Earth — roughly the same distance it was in 1963, according to NASA.
Seeing the phenomenon is only possible if the weather cooperates, but on Monday night, Massachusetts should have fairly clear skies, National Weather Service meteorologist Alan Dunham said.
“The later you go into the night, the clearer the skies get, with the clearest skies over southeastern Mass.,” he said.
Jupiter will rise in the east around 9 p.m., with Saturn rising about an hour or two earlier, Sykes said. Jupiter is “definitely brighter than Saturn, so it makes it a lot easier to see,” he said.
It is visible to the naked eye but won’t necessarily be defined, Sykes said. It will simply look like a “bright dot,” making its famous Great Red Spot nearly impossible to see.
A telescope that is four inches or larger, with filters in the green to blue range, would aid visibility of the Great Red Spot and bands around the planet, Adam Kobelski, a research astrophysicist at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., said in NASA’s statement.
The best place to see Jupiter would be a high elevation in a dark, dry area, Kobelski said.
Bostonians don’t necessarily have to leave the city to see Jupiter since it will be so bright, Sykes said.
“It’ll be the brightest thing in the sky once it’s risen,” Sykes said. “All the streetlights really hamper us from looking up into the sky, but you still can look at it with the telescope and you’ll still be able to get some good views.”
A few of Jupiter’s moons, especially Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto, will be visible with a telescope, Sykes said. They’re orbiting Jupiter constantly and their order changes hour to hour because they’re “zipping around all by themselves,” he said.
“They’re always fun to see,” Sykes said. “Jupiter’s got at least 80 moons and they keep finding more. I think we’re getting close to 100 now.”
Jupiter has 53 named moons, according to NASA’s statement.
For those who aren’t able to see the sky Monday night, don’t fret. Just because Jupiter’s at its closest point Monday does not mean it’s leaving us right away.
“It’s not like it’s going to be slipping away from us really quickly. We go around the sun pretty slowly,” Sykes said. “You’ve got plenty of time.”