Backyard Astronomer: Big Bright Jupiter

Gary Boyle

On any clear night, look to the southern portion of the sky after sunset and you will come across a bright object. This is not a star but the planet Jupiter.

Of the eight major planets in our solar system, Jupiter is literally the King. This fifth planet from the sun is so large; eleven earths can line up across its equator, and it can hold a thousand more inside.

Jupiter — along with Saturn, Mars, Venus and Mercury — can be seen with the unaided eye while Uranus and Neptune are telescopic objects. In fact, these five planets have been seen for thousands of years, and along with the sun and moon, were named after gods.

Jupiter has more than 70 moons that are small in size compared to the four giant Galilean moons named Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto. At 5,268 kilometres wide, Ganymede is the largest.

Any telescope will show these very distinct worlds as they orbit their mammoth planet.

Io is an extremely active moon with dozens of volcanoes that blast plumes of sulfurous material as high as 500 kilometres high. These have been imaged by spacecraft orbiting or passing by the Jovian system.

At various points in the moons’ orbits, they transit or cross in front of Jupiter and cast a small inky black dot on Jupiter’s cloud tops. At times there could be two or three shadows at the same time. These four moons were first observed by Galileo in 1609 with his newly-built telescope. He also went on to observe the rings of Saturn, the crescent phases of Venus and the heavily cratered moon of Earth.

Earth’s moon will be located near Jupiter on July 13 and Saturn two nights later on the 15th.

With orbits of 11.8 and 29.5 around the sun, the nightly motion of these planets against the background stars is extremely slow. For those living in dark skies away from light pollution, the Milky Way is wedged between the two thus making a striking view.

July 20 will be the 50th anniversary of humans landing on the surface of the moon. The last half century has seen tremendous advancement in technology and space exploration. We have sent Voyager 1 and 2 to give us a close up look in the gas giants, sent an array of orbiting satellites and rovers to Mars.

For almost 30 years the Hubble Space Telescope has imaged the far depths of the Universe.

Gravity waves have been detected over the past few years stemming from Einstein’s prediction in 1916.

And finally, a black hole located 55 million light years away has been imaged.

This is a wonderful age to follow amazing discoveries and enjoy the night sky with today’s state of the art telescopes and cameras.

Until next time, clear skies.

Known as “The Backyard Astronomer,” Gary Boyle is an astronomy educator, guest speaker and monthly columnist for the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada. Follow him on Twitter: @astroeducator or his website:

Just Posted

Interior Health CEO talks patient transfers, staffing challenges

Susan Brown takes questions on local, regional health care issues at a recent public meeting

Snowfall warning for Kootenay and Paulson passes

Up to 30 cm expected in mountain passes Saturday and Sunday.

Monkey Do’s Childcare talks expansion, government funding

The B.C. Government has been working to improve childcare in the province… Continue reading

Moose tests positive for Chronic Wasting Disease in northwest Montana

This is the first time the disease has been detected in the species in Montana

Max’s Place celebrates 25 years in business

On Friday, Nov. 15 Max’s Place, a beloved Cranbrook bakery and coffee… Continue reading

Teen with cancer whose viral video urged Canadians to vote has died, uncle tweets

Maddison Yetman had been looking forward to voting in her first federal election since junior high school

Striking Vancouver hotel workers, employer reach ‘tentative’ agreement

Employees of the Rosewood Hotel Georgia have been out at picket lines since talks broke off on Sept. 21

Environmental and animal rights activists chain themselves to front doors of Kelowna bank

The group is protesting Interior Savings Credit Union’s support of Kelowna Ribfest

Cold, stormy winter forecast across much of Canada, The Weather Network predicts

In British Columbia temperatures will be slightly above normal and precipitation will be just below normal

Cell phone tickets worse tax grab than speed limits, SenseBC says

Distracted driving statistics questioned as B.C. tickets pile up

Rowing Canada, UVic investigate celebrated coach for harassment, abuse

Lily Copeland says she felt intimidated and trapped by Williams

Cleanup in the works after tanker truck fire leads to oil spill in B.C.’s Peace region

The province said the majority of the spilled oil likely burned away in the fire.

BC VIEWS: Action needed on healthcare workplace violence

While we’ve been talking about it, the number of B.C. victims has only grown

Closing arguments begin in B.C. case launched in 2009 over private health care

Dr. Day said he illegally opened the Cambie Surgery Centre in 1996 in order to create more operating-room time

Most Read