(Posted 2 February 2015) Even the most casual sky watcher will have noticed a dazzlingly bright star above the North East horizon at the end of evening twilight. That star is in fact the planet Jupiter and it is only days from reaching opposition on Saturday 7 March 2015.
For the uninitiated into astronomy, the term opposition sounds mysterious and some sort of occultist term. It isn’t but is instead an astronomical term. It simply means that the planet Jupiter will rise as the Sun sets and then set as the Sun rises the following morning. For Jupiter, it coincides with the planets closest approach to the Earth, and means that the next few months are prime time for Jupiter watching. In fact, Jupiter is so large (approximately 1,200 Earth’s by volume) that even a reasonable pair of binoculars will resolve Jupiter as a disc plus show four of it’s largest moons.
Even if you are not familiar with the night sky, Jupiter’s brightness means that it is very easy to find. Simply look above the North East horizon as evening twilight ends. Jupiter will be the brightest star (-2.6 magnitude) you can see. If you are still not sure, you can use the Moon as a celestial signpost this Wednesday night (4 February 2015). Jupiter will be the very bright star to the left of (and below) the Moon. Use the above finder chart to assist you.