December 3 – Jupiter At Opposition

Astronomy lovers will enjoy the spectacle that will unfold on December 3. This is the time that Jupiter comes in opposition to the sun. When a planet reaches opposition, it means that it is not only the brightest that it will be throughout the entire year, but this is also the time that it will be the closest to earth. On this day, Jupiter will have a distance of 4.0688 AU (Astronomical Unit) from earth and 5.0544 AU from the sun. One AU is equal to 149,598,000 kilometers.

This opposition only occurs approximately every 390 days, with the time increasing by another 33 1/2 days each following year. There will be no opposition 2013. When Jupiter makes it’s way back, it will be located in the Taurus constellation, which is one of the constellations located in the point furtherest North of all of the zodiac constellations. Gemini is the most northern constellation.

During opposition, Jupiter’s size, or the angular width as it is perceived from Earth, will measure 48”.4 arcseonds (one arcsecond is the equivalent of 1/3600 of a degree). This is a reduction of 1”.2 from the last opposition in 2011. During the opposition, it will also have a tilt of +3.0 degrees.

How Jupiter Will Appear

This planet is well-known for the rapid pace at which it rotates. This high rotation speed alters the way a telescope or high-powered binoculars perceive it. It’s oblate appearance distorts perception and makes Jupiter appear as if it is fatter than it actually is and that it has a shortened distance from it’s North to South pole. When comparing the actual polar diameter to what we actually see, the difference is approximately 6.3 percent less.

Where To Look

Your chance of viewing this phenomenon depends on where you are located. For those located in the Northern hemisphere, a planet in opposition means that it will be due South at midnight. Those living in the Southern hemisphere will find the location of the opposition to be due North at midnight.

How To Get The Best View

Each year of opposition means that Jupiter is moving farther away from Earth, so 2012 will not offer quite as good of an appearance as astronomy lovers would have experienced in 2011. However, if you move far away from artificial lighting, such as cities, you should be able to view Jupiter, permitting that you are using high-powered binoculars or a good telescope.

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