Jupiter, the fifth planet from the sun and the largest planet in the solar system, will reign supreme in the night sky this winter.
The Jovian giant is one of the easiest planets to spot in the sky. Although Venus is brighter, Jupiter is farther from the sun, so it's visible long after the sun and Venus have set. Other than the moon, it's the brightest object you can see in the middle of the night. The pale peach-colored Jupiter is shining at a brilliant magnitude of --2.7.
Even though Earth and Jupiter are currently as close as they will get to each other all year, it's not the distance between the two worlds that makes Jupiter so bright. It's Jupiter's size and brightly reflective clouds that make it dazzle. Jupiter's 88,846-mile diameter is 11 times as wide as Earth's, with about 121 times more surface area.
With its colorful belts and zones, Jupiter appears striped in a telescope. However, Jupiter does not have a solid surface. It's composed mainly of hydrogen and helium. Because of immense pressures deep in the core of Jupiter these gases are compressed into a dense hot liquid. Scientists believe that unlike Earth, where heat from the sun produces our weather, Jupiter's internal heat may produce the turbulence and storms in its upper atmosphere.
One of those storms is the Great Red Spot. With a diameter of 12,500 miles, it is almost the size of three Earths. Observers have followed the Red Spot since the invention of the telescope 400 years ago.
On any clear Friday or Saturday evening this winter, you can view Jupiter at Carnegie Science Center's Buhl Observatory. Our 16-inch telescope will let you get up close and personal with Jupiter and other amazing celestial objects. Call the SkyWatch Hotline at 412-237-3327 the night of the session for the latest viewing information.