Jupiter to Come Closest to Earth Tonight for 59 Years—Here's How to See It

Jupiter is due to reach its closest point to Earth in 59 years on Monday, September 26, providing a great opportunity to go and spot the Solar System's biggest planet in the night sky.

That is not all, though. The gas giant will also be at opposition—a situation in which the sun, Earth and Jupiter line up perfectly. This coincidence will improve Jupiter's visibility still further.

Opposition is not particularly rare, happening once every 13 months or so, since Earth and Jupiter each orbit the sun at different speeds and distances.

Jupiter
An image of Jupiter created using photos from NASA's Juno spacecraft in February, 2019. The image was put together by citizen scientist Kevin M. Gill using Juno data. Jupiter is set to be particularly bright in the sky in the coming days as it reaches its closest point to Earth in decades. NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Kevin M.Gill

The current opposition will be a stand-out occasion, though, because it is occurring at almost the exact same time that Jupiter will be making its closest approach to Earth since 1963.

The reason Jupiter gets closer and then further away from Earth over time is because the planets' orbits are not perfectly circular. They stretch and bulge in an oval shape, meaning that sometimes a planet is closer to the sun and sometimes it is particularly far away.

On September 26, Jupiter will be approximately 367 million miles away from Earth. This might sound like a lot, but it is close considering Jupiter can be up to 600 million miles away at its farthest point.

The views of Jupiter over the next couple of nights are set to be extraordinary, according to NASA, provided observers are in an area with clear skies and little light pollution. No equipment is needed to spot Jupiter, though binoculars or telescopes will help bring out extra detail.

Jupiter is currently in the constellation Pisces and will rise at about 6:45 p.m. ET and set at around 6:43 a.m. ET for someone in New York, according to astronomy website The Sky Live. Times will vary by location. It is ascending in the east in the evening, opposite the sun as it sets in the west.

Jupiter should be brighter than all the stars. Mobile constellation maps may help with locating it. Apart from the moon, it should be one of the brightest objects in the night sky.

"With good binoculars, the banding—at least the central band—and three or four of the Galilean moons should be visible," said Adam Kobelski, a research astrophysicist at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, who was quoted in a NASA blog post. Banding refers to the colorful cloud bands that encircle the planet.

Kobelski said a larger telescope would be needed to see Jupiter's famous Great Red Spot—the result of the largest storm in the Solar System, where wind speeds exceed 400 miles per hour—and its cloud bands in more detail. Regardless of viewing equipment, an ideal viewing location would be somewhere at high elevation that is also dark and dry, he added.

If it is not possible to see Jupiter on September 26, do not worry. The planet should look great for a few days afterward as well.

Update, 9/27/22, 11:24 a.m. ET: This article has been updated to update the time at which Jupiter will rise and set for an observer in New York, and to clarify that this time will change by location.