Jupiter will be closer to Earth tonight than it has been in nearly sixty years, and it will be the brightest object in the night sky (other than the moon) for the next few months.
Nat Geo spoke with an astronomy-type dude who explained the conditions:
“Oppositions of the Earth and Jupiter occur roughly every 400 days, due to Earth catching up to Jupiter and lapping it in its race around the sun,” said Raminder Singh Samra, resident astronomer at the H.R. MacMillan Space Centre in Vancouver, British Columbia.
“But because the orbits of the planets are slightly elliptical, the distances between oppositions vary, and so the next time [Earth and Jupiter] are this close won’t be until 2022.”
Assuming we all survive the Mayan apocalypse, of course. Jupiter isn’t the only planet showing off among the heavenly bodies of late- Uranus is also visible using only binoculars:
“As Uranus is about five times further away than Jupiter and about a third the size, it will be about 2,800 times fainter than Jupiter,” Singh said. But “being so close to each other in the sky, it will be possible to see both planets at the same time through a pair of binoculars.”
If you’ve got the binoculars out, you ‘ll also be able to see all four of Jupiter’s moons.