GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — You may have read that you can see Jupiter’s moons this month with just the help of binoculars or even a weak telescope. The good news is that it’s true!
In reality, you can kind of do it at any time. The reason it is making headlines now is that Jupiter is passing closer to the Earth, meaning it and its moons will look larger.
I asked an expert to break down the details. Shawn Brueshaber, a Ph.D. candidate researching the atmospheric dynamics of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune, said that even with light pollution on a clear night, people in West Michigan should be able to make out Jupiter and its moons, which will be bright in the nighttime sky.
“When the moons are not between us and the disk of Jupiter, they appear like bright points along the plane of Jupiter’s equator,” he said. “However, it is frequently easy to see a round dark spot on the disk of Jupiter. Those are the shadows of the moons.”
All this month, Jupiter will be in opposition, which means it will be the biggest and brightest in the night sky this month compared to other months. The comparison is like that of a moon and a super moon, the difference is a bit noticeable but not shockingly different.
Brueshaber says anyone interested needs to be sure to stabilize the binoculars or telescope, so they can see the planet clearly. The moon, Jupiter and Saturn will all appear together, making for a pretty display.
“There’s a website that can show the positions of the four big (Galilean) moons for each night. In order out from Jupiter, they are Io, Europa, Ganymede (which is larger than Mercury), and Callisto,” Brueshabersaid.
For those that are making time to check out the night sky with something more powerful than binoculars, be sure to look a little closer.
”Also, with a small scope, you’ll be able to see some of the dark cloud belts, light zones, and the Great Red Spot, if you pick the right time to look,” Brueshaber said.