Stargazers directing their attention toward the Southern Hemisphere on a clear night will notice what appears to be a particularly bright star. Appearances can be deceiving: Shining brighter than any star in this summer’s night sky is Jupiter.
Jupiter – the largest planet in our solar system – is currently aligned with the Earth and sun in its orbit, known as opposition.
“It’s basically as close as we ever get to Jupiter,” said Guy Worthey, Washington State University physics and astronomy associate professor.
With binoculars alone, a viewer can spot four of Jupiter’s moons, Worthey said. Those who make fast friends with a telescope owner might spy Jupiter’s storms, the most famous being the great red spot.
“It’s not always facing us, Jupiter is a fast spinner,” Worthey said. “It spins around once every 10 hours and sometimes it’s a little subtle. The red spot’s faded a little bit in recent years, so it takes a pretty good night to see the red spot.”
In a month, Jupiter will be joined by the more-distant planet Saturn. Though not as bright, Saturn will provide fantastic views, Worthey said.
“Jupiter is on the right side of the Milky Way and Saturn’s on the left side of the Milky Way right now, and that will be the way it is for this particular summer,” Worthey said. “Saturn is another one that’s super reliable, it’s always really pretty through a telescope.”
For those who don’t have access to telescopes, Washington State University’s Jewett Observatory will be free and open to the public on July 6, when Saturn will be near opposition, though this will be canceled if the sky is cloudy.
“We have to take a bow to Mother Nature here,” Worthey said.
Astrologers also are interested in Jupiter and other current planetary configurations. Spokane astrologist Michele Mokrey, owner of Silver Moon Astrology, said Jupiter is at a 90-degree angle to Neptune, something known in astrology as a square.
“The square element is considered sacred and it’s kind of like the point of growth,” said Mokrey, who also owns New Moon Art Gallery. “Jupiter is the planet of expansion and it’s a planet of abundance and joy and good fortune, but it’s coming head to head with Neptune and so it kind of changes that whole dynamic.”
Mokrey said this corner element will cause veils to be lifted in people’s lives.
“If there is some kind of illusion going on in our lives right now, something that we can’t really see, Neptune squaring Jupiter will help us take off those rose-colored glasses,” Mokrey said. “It peels back layers so we can actually see the root of what we’re dealing with.”
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