In an extremely rare occurrence, Jupiter comes closest to Earth on Monday, September 26, after almost six decades. The planet previously came close in 1963.
According to NASA, the planet will be about 367 million miles or 590.6 million kilometers away from Earth. NASA said,
"At its closest approach, Jupiter will be approximately 367 million miles in distance from Earth, about the same distance it was in 1963. The massive planet is approximately 600 million miles away from Earth at its farthest point."
Named after the Roman king of the gods, Jupiter is the largest planet in our solar system. The gas giant is the fifth planet in the solar system, and is astronomically large; 317 Earth masses would be required to equal its mass.
The planet is usually visible after sunset. You might have observed a bright "star" in the eastern sky, but it's the giant planet Jupiter, which is almost at its brightest.
A celestial object reaches opposition when it rises in the east as the sun sets in the west, placing the sun and the object on opposing sides of Earth. Jupiter is currently doing this. But what also makes this unique is that the planet will be brighter than usual because it will be at its closest point to Earth in 59 years.
The fact that astronomers can anticipate seeing the planet for the entire night of September 26 will be a sight for sore eyes. More so than at any other time of the year, the largest planet will appear bigger and brighter.
Earth and Jupiter pass each other at varying distances throughout the year because their orbits around the Sun are not perfectly round. Because of their slightly weird orbits rather than being totally circular, planets' distances from Earth vary.
How to see Jupiter
The planet's maximum distance from Earth is 966 million kilometers, but on Monday, it will be closer to Earth—approximately 591 million kilometers. It was last this close in October 1963. The next time it will be this close is in 2129.
After sunset, the planet can be seen in the east. Being the brightest object in the sky, it is difficult to miss, even from a light-polluted metropolis.
At 12:51 am EDT (4:51 GMT) on Tuesday, September 27, the planet will rise to an altitude of 7 degrees above the eastern horizon, move to 49 degrees above the southern horizon (its highest point), and then descend below the western horizon.
Although you don't need a telescope or binoculars to see it, if you do have one, you can have some fun over the next several days.
Adam Kobelski, a research astrophysicist at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, said that the planet's banding and three or four of its Galilean moons should be visible with good binoculars.
“The views should be great for a few days before and after September 26, so take advantage of good weather on either side of this date to take in the sight.”
Researchers believe they can make ground-breaking discoveries about how the solar system formed by examining the planet. A NASA space probe called Juno recently had its mission extended until 2025, or until the spacecraft's end of life. The mission of the spacecraft, which has been orbiting Jupiter for six years, is to study the planet and its satellites.