Stargazing: Jupiter's moons

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Stargazers shouldn't have any trouble finding Jupiter from now until spring. After going into opposition on Jan. 4, our dazzling bright "evening star" can be found 45 degrees above the eastern horizon at 7 p.m.

Because Jupiter is positioned high above the celestial equator in Gemini, the planet should offer stunning views through a telescope during this evening's appearance. The planet's higher altitude will allow its light to travel through much less of Earth's turbulent and blurring atmosphere.

Good binoculars or a small telescope will also show the planet's four large Galilean moons. They appear as bright "stars" on either side of Jupiter. From innermost to outermost, they are Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto. As the moon orbit around Jupiter, they will shift positions from night to night. It's impossible to identify the moons without looking at a reference chart, so our illustration today will show their positions at 9 p.m. as seen through binoculars. Sky & Telescope and Astronomy magazine also prints a complete chart each month.

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