Moon and Jupiter

The bright object near the moon tonight is the planet Jupiter. What this largest planet in our solar system would look like if you could peer at it through a small telescope

Jupiter is our solar system’s biggest planet — the first gas giant world among four such worlds in the outer solar system. Even a century ago, people suspected that what we see of Jupiter through a telescope is only the outer layer of an extremely thick atmosphere. The jovian atmosphere is crossed with horizontal features. The lighter ones are called “zones” and the darker, reddish ones are called “belts.”

People with small telescopes like to look for the Great Red Spot. It’s been seen on Jupiter for hundreds of years. This feature on Jupiter got its name around the year 1878. That’s when the spot — which had appeared pink — turned a vivid red and stayed that color for two or three years. In recent decades, Jupiter’s Red Spot has been more tan than red. It’s known to drift with respect to its surroundings. People often compare it to a giant weather system on Jupiter, like a hurricane — although the Red Spot itself is so large that two planet Earths could fit side by side in front of it.

To the eye, the planet Jupiter appears as the brightest “star” visible now in the evening sky. You can see Jupiter now in the west for several hours after sunset. Tonight, it’s very near the waxing crescent moon.

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