The 12-Year Cycle of Jupiter Oppositions

Jupiter can be at opposition on August nineteenth among the many dim stars of the constellation Aquarius. When at opposition Jupiter seems instantly reverse the Sun as seen by us on Earth — which implies it’ll be at its biggest and brightest of the year. (Saturn got here to opposition on August 2nd.)

Jupiter opposition diagram
At opposition, Jupiter and the Earth line up on the identical facet of the Sun.
Bob King

At occasions like these, it’s fascinating to consider what’s truly occurring. After all, every little thing in space is shifting on a regular basis, so there’s extra occurring than Jupiter crossing an invisible end line. Jupiter is on common 5 occasions farther from the Sun than Earth, and it takes for much longer to finish an orbit than our planet does, 12 years to our 1 year. So, one other way to assume of opposition is that Earth is catching up with and dashing previous Jupiter, like runners on an unlimited race observe. Put one other way, we attain opposition with Jupiter as we cross it by.

Since Jupiter strikes by means of 1/12 of its orbit per year, it takes a year, plus time for the 1/12 of an orbit Jupiter has moved, for us to catch again up with it. This means we attain opposition with Jupiter about each 13 months.

On August 20, 2021, Jupiter is at opposition simply off the limb of Capricornus (which places it throughout the boundaries of the Aquarius constellation.)

This sample provides us an opportunity to make use of Jupiter as our information for a 12-year observing undertaking. I do know this sounds a bit of absurd however all you should do is keep in mind to search for. Let’s begin this week.

Jupiter is shiny and straightforward to seek out, besides when it is close to conjunction and is both too near the Sun to see or is hard to identify by means of the brilliant daylight. So, let’s regulate it as a lot as we will. As the leaves change and fall, because the snow piles up, melts, and the leaves come again, let’s watch Jupiter. As neighborhood youngsters chortle at some point and be taught to drive the following, and as a bit of extra gray creeps onto our heads, we will watch at any time when we have now an opportunity. Where is Jupiter? What stars are close by? What deep sky objects?

Through the Zodiac

These are the following 12 oppositions and the constellations Jupiter can be in for every one:

  1. August 20, 2021: Aquarius
  2. September 26, 2022: Pisces
  3. November 1, 2023: Aries
  4. December 6, 2024: Taurus
  5. January 9, 2026: Gemini
  6. February 10, 2027: Leo
  7. March 13, 2028: Virgo
  8. April 13, 2029: Virgo
  9. May 14, 2030: Libra
  10. June 16, 2031: Ophiuchus
  11. July 20, 2032: Sagittarius
  12. August 25, 2033: Back in Aquarius

As time goes on, we will see and picture Jupiter’s moons and striped clouds sweeping by means of the stars. As the year goes on, our view of the solar system — and on the galaxy — modifications, pointing in several instructions, in the identical way that we see Orion and Auriga in winter, and Aquila and Delphinus in summer season.

When Jupiter comes again to Aquarius in August of 2033, we’ll have watched it by means of a whole one of its years. Can you think about the place we’ll be then? Who will win these World Series? What illnesses will we treatment? Will crews make it to Mars? Will we lastly get these flying vehicles?

During all that point, we’ll have seen Jupiter transfer eastward among the many background stars of all of the zodiac constellations, by about one constellation per opposition. (You’ll discover in Cancer, Scorpius and Capricornus are lacking from the checklist. Jupiter crosses them, however not close to an opposition. Also, Virgo is the biggest zodiac constellation, so it takes longer to cross.)

If we have now extra time, we will strive the identical factor with Saturn. It takes about 29 years to take the identical path by means of the stars. Each opposition is separated by a year plus about two weeks. Watching Uranus by means of its 81-year orbit can be exceptional, a lifetime of sky-watching.

To do the identical with Neptune (165 years), Pluto (238 years), or extra distant objects, we’d want some assist from an immortality potion. But simply think about the place humanity can be in that distant future if we had been to begin watching as we speak.

It looks like an unlimited dedication, however let’s give this a strive. I hope you’ll add Jupiter to your checklist and begin this week!


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