Stargazers look up: Jupiter makes closest approach to Earth

Stargazers look up: Jupiter makes closest approach to Earth

As Jupiter made its nearest approach to Earth in a year, the Hubble Space Telescope viewed the solar system's largest planet in all of its up-close glory. It will be at its closest point to Earth and brightest in our sky April 7. It will appear to be its biggest and brightest compared to any other day this year.

Friday evening, the king of the planets (at least in this particular solar system) officially reaches opposition - from our blue planet perspective, Jupiter is directly opposite the sun and we're in the middle. When the Sun rises in the east, the planet Jupiter will set in west.

The gas giant will appear and disappear opposite of the sun, making it visible just after sunset in the eastern sky.

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This month, Jupiter is at its closest to the Earth and the hemisphere facing our planet is fully illuminated by the Sun. Though Jupiter will look like a bright star to the naked eye, Smith said those with a steady hand and binoculars of 10-power magnification might see the planet's outline in better detail, as well as a few of its many moons.

Without a telescope, Jupiter is still quite distinct, with a characteristic orangey glow.

Also on the night of opposition, Jupiter will shine only 1/3 degree away from a little star called Theta Virginis.

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Jupiter is as close as it'll get to Earth this year, and the Hubble Space Telescope took advantage of the opportunity with a stunning picture that shows off the giant planet's best-known spots.

The planet's Great Red Spot is especially vivid. Since this vortex, which is large enough to engulf three Earths, was first spotted in 1664, scientists have noticed that it has been shrinking. Hubble provides important insight into how the gas giant's extraordinary features - like its famous Great Red Spot, a giant storm that is larger than Earth itself - are changing.

On Friday night, from anywhere in the U.S., you should be able to spot Jupiter tucked in the center of the constellation Virgo in the Southeastern sky.

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Look to the southeastern sky, and it will be the brightest object in the heavens - besides Venus and the moon - so you won't need a telescope to see it. Depending on Jupiter's position with respect to the Earth, it might vary in visual magnitude while in conjunction with the Sun.

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