Jupiter "close" tonight!

Jupiter is closest to Earth since 1963. Of course "close" is a relative term. In this case, close means the solar system's largest world will be "only" 368 million miles from Earth.

Jupiter and Earth are at opposition. That doesn't mean they're enemies. "Opposition" means a planet will be on the opposite side of Earth from the Sun. Planets shine brightest, are often but not always closest at opposition.

Jupiter will rise in the east-southeast soon after sunset, looking like a brilliant star, and all night long it will be the brightest object in the sky other than our Moon!

A decent pair of binoculars will show you the bright planetary disk with two "stars" on either side; those are the four Galilean moons, named after Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei who discovered them in 1610.

Watch closely: around 9:45 EDT tonight (Sept. 21) Europa begins transit of Jupiter! Binoculars see Europa disappear; big telescopes are needed to see the transit -- Europa passing in front of its giant "parent."

Jupiter and blue-green Uranus will be in a rare double opposition to Earth tonight, Tuesday, Sept. 21. That will not happen again until the year 2037.

Uranus, on its "close" approach really does make Jupiter look like a next-door neighbor. For while Jupiter will be a "mere" 368 million miles away, Uranus floats in the cold far reaches of the Sun's family 1.8 billion miles from us tonight.

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