Dubai: It is the month of Jupiter - when the largest planet in the solar system is closest to Earth than any other time in the year. If you don’t own a binocular, or aren't in the vicinity of a big telescope, you are in luck as UAE residents will get to see the Great Red Spot with the naked eye until the end of June.
If you do have a binocular or telescope, however, then you can see the planet better and at its brightest. You could also see the four moons of Jupiter if you can find a bigger telescope.
So why is this happening?
“On Monday night, Jupiter reached opposition. In other words, the planet was directly opposite to the Sun, with Earth in between the two giant bodies of the solar system. So all three celestial bodies were in one line,” said Nazar Hezam Salam, member of Arab astronomer and space science.
“When we say opposition, it means over the next few nights, this giant gas planet (Jupiter) will be visible from Earth and will look the brightest. Remember, Jupiter will be visible from Earth until end of the year, but it is best to catch it now as it is closest to the Earth.”
How far is Jupiter?
Salam said the current distance of Jupiter from Earth is around 640,862,318. “If you think this is not close then know that the Earth's average distance to Jupiter is 786,884,800 kilometres.”
For the record, the average distance between Jupiter and the Sun is 778 million km (about 5.2 times the average distance between Earth and the Sun, or 5.2 AU) and it completes an orbit every 11.86 years.
So what do you get to see
According to Salam, you can see the planet from the comfort of your home in your balcony or terrace, or when you are out and about in the city.
“All you need to do is look at the direction of East. Use a compass for this if you don't know where East lies. Jupiter will be visible from dusk onwards when it rises in the East. Look out for the brightest spot in the sky, it will be visible throughout the night.”
Don’t mistake a star for Jupiter however, he warned. “Remember if you see a twinkle then it is a star. If you see a bright spot which does not twinkle then it is Jupiter,” said Salam.
No high-end equipment required
"You don’t need to have a special telescope to see the planet. It is so bright. For me personally, it is my favourite planet to watch out for in the skies. It is like a jewel. It is so beautiful ”, Salam added.
“If you have a binocular, however, you will see the planet bigger and brighter. If you have a small telescope than its four moons will be visible and the cloud surrounding it. Remember Jupiter is a gaseous planet so the cloud of gas will be visible. And of course there is the Great Red Spot, a persistent high-pressure region in the atmosphere of Jupiter, producing an anticyclonic storm, the largest in the Solar System, 22 degrees south of the planet's equator. It has been continuously observed since 1830. And you can see it now!”, said Salam.
Looking for a supernova
A supernova (explosive death of a star) can happen anytime. When it does, the sky lights up with a spectacular flash. "I have to be lucky to capture the phenomenon. Who knows if I succeed might even have a supernova or comet named after me,” said Salam, a Yemeni expatriate who works with Abu Dhabi Police as a computer engineer.
The astronomy buff has spent nearly one million dirhams on his passion for the solar system. In fact his four-bedroom villa in Al Muroor, Abu Dhabi, doubles as his private observatory with more than 80 telescopes including the astrophotography telescope which weighs around 38kg and has a 14-inch lens to help him keep an eye on the skies.