Spot Jupiter tonight

There are two bright planets in the evening sky at the moment – Venus, visible in the west after sunset, and Jupiter, which you can see in the south-east in the evening sky.

Jupiter in sky
Jupiter shines between the rooftops. Photo: Paul Sutherland

During the night, Jupiter moves to the south, and this is just about the best time this year to view the largest planet in the Solar System.

It reached its closest point to Earth for the year on 9 May, but it’ll be easy to view for another couple of months. It is fairly low down in the sky this year as seen from the northern hemisphere, so if you have rooftops or trees to the south-east, choose another location to spot it.

Jupiter, photographed on 7 May 2018 using a 130 mm Sky-Watcher reflecting telescope. The Great Red Spot is to upper left and the satellite at lower left is Ganymede, Jupiter’s largest moon. South is upwards, as seen through an astronomical telescope. Photo: Robin Scagell

Take a look through binoculars and you may see its four major moons on either side. They move from night to night, so not all four might be visible when you look as one or two could be too close to the planet to be visible.

Even a small telescope will show the darker equatorial belts on the planet, and maybe even a bit of detail on them. You’ll probably need to study the planet carefully if you’re not an experienced telescope user, but don’t give up on them. With larger telescopes — say with lenses or mirrors 100 mm or more in diameter – you might even spy the Great Red Spot, a vast continuing storm in the planet’s cloud belts.

Later in the summer Mars and Saturn will be around – so come back here for more info.