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Western Slope Skies - Jupiter Juno Mission

Credit: NASA, ESA, and Amy Simon (Goddard Space Flight Center) et al.

This March is an ideal time to view the largest planet in our solar system, Jupiter. On March 8th, Jupiter, the Earth and the Sun were in a line, an annual event called opposition. This happens when Jupiter is closer to Earth than during other times of the year, making Jupiter appear bigger and brighter.

Although opposition has already occurred, the next few weeks are still a good time to view this gas giant. Jupiter will continue to appear big and bright and will be visible most of the night. After sunset, look for it to the east-southeast in the constellation Leo.

Even with a small telescope, you will see the distinct white and red-brown bands and giant hurricane-like storms such as the Great Red Spot. The bands and storms are in the upper atmosphere, but because the atmosphere is thick, we don’t know how far they extend into the planet. We will learn more about the interior after the spacecraft, Juno, en route to Jupiter now, arrives on July 4th.

The spacecraft was named after the Roman goddess, Juno. Her husband, the god Jupiter, covered himself in clouds to conceal his mischief, but Juno was able to peer through and see her husband’s wrongdoings. Just as Juno the goddess was able to see through her husband’s mask of clouds, Juno the spacecraft will peer deep into the dense clouds of the gas giant.

Starting in July, Juno will orbit within a few thousand miles of Jupiter. The goals of the mission are to understand the formation and evolution of the planet. Whereas past missions have focused on studying the upper clouds, Juno will study the deeper part of the atmosphere. It will determine if a solid core is beneath the clouds and will study the magnetic field. Studying the formation of Jupiter will help us understand the formation of other planets.

Black Canyon Astronomical Society logo

For the next couple of years, stay tuned for exciting discoveries about Jupiter. For the next few months, watch for Jupiter in the night sky.

You’ve been listening to Western Slope Skies, produced by the Black Canyon Astronomical Society. This episode was written and recorded by Angela Lexvold.

For more information, follow the links...

About Jupiter:

About the Juno mission:

Jupiter at opposition: