All About Space

This month’s planets

Jupiter and Saturn are a dazzling duo from September through to October


Planet of the month

Jupiter will be visible all through the night, a lovely sight to the naked eye, through binoculars or in the eyepiece of a telescope. Finding it will be easy: as the western sky begins to darken, turn your back on the deepening twilight so you are facing the southeast and you’ll see a blue-white ‘star’ glinting above the horizon. That’s Jupiter, and as the sky darkens the planet will become brighter and more obvious until it’s impossible to miss. Jupiter will be very obvious, looking like a bright ‘star’ to the left of fainter, more yellowhued Saturn. At the start of our observing period it will set at around 04:30, and by mid-October will be setting at 02:00, but that will still give you plenty of time to enjoy observing it.

Through a modest pair of binoculars Jupiter will appear much brighter than it does to the naked eye, and you’ll also see up to four of its extended family of more than 79 moons. We say ‘up to’ because the number you will see will depend on the date and time of night you’re looking for them: as the moons whip around Jupiter they come in and out of view, moving in front of or behind their host planet, so sometimes you will be able to see all four of the so-called ‘Galilean satellites’ close to the planet, but at other times you might only see one or two. You can use the internet or phone apps to tell you in advance which moons you will be able to see on the night you’re looking for them.

If you have a telescope, its higher power of magnificat­ion will show you details and features in the planet’s atmosphere. You’ll be able to see caramel and toffee-coloured cloud bands crossing the disc, and if you’re looking at the right time you’ll see the Great Red Spot too – a storm the size of Earth that has been raging in Jupiter’s atmosphere for centuries.

However, if you want to see Jupiter in all of its banded, storm-spattered glory, you’ll need to go online, to the website of NASA’s Juno probe. It has sent back many thousands of stunningly detailed photograph­s of the planet’s swirling storms, wild weather systems and billowing clouds, which you can see online for free.

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