As twilight deepens, the starlike light of bright Jupiter appears above the southeastern horizon. Jupiter climbs to its highest point around midnight, then descends toward the southwest. On May 8-9, Jupiter, Earth and the Sun lined up, a momentous celestial phenomenon known as “opposition.” Around this time of opposition, the planet is brightest for the year and visible from dusk until dawn.
Jupiter rises three-quarters of an hour before sunset today, the 14th, accounting for its appearance above the horizon when skies darken enough to see its -2.50 magnitude light (the smaller the number the greater the magnitude). By the 27th, the great planet rises nearly two hours before sunset and so will appear in the evening sky considerably higher above the horizon and set earlier in the morning.
Namesake of the Roman king of the gods, Jupiter is the largest planet in our solar system and the third brightest object in the night sky, next to Venus and the moon. Although Venus is a much smaller planet than giant Jupiter, Venus’ brilliance in our skies, now at magnitude -3.95, is, in part, the function of it orbiting closer to Earth and to the Sun than Jupiter. Significant also is Venus’ particularly reflective atmosphere. Shortly after sunset, Venus shines in the west-northwest. See it, as the Evening Star, until about 10 p.m. If your location affords you a view to both the northwest and southeast, you’ll take in both planets with a turn of the head.
Here is an easy to remember sentence that provides a reminder of the order of the planets from the Sun outward:
My Very Excellent Mother Just Sent Us Nuts represents
Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune.
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