Jupiter will be at its biggest and brightest in the sky tonight (July 14) as the planet reaches opposition, the point in its orbit where it's almost directly opposite the sun in our sky and near its closest approach to Earth.
You can spot Jupiter with the naked eye in the constellation Sagittarius. One of the easiest ways to find the constellation is to use the Summer Triangle asterism. Draw an imaginary line from the star Deneb (in the constellation Cygnus, the swan) and through the star Altair (in Aquila, the eagle) to get to Sagittarius.
Most people in North America will see Sagittarius close to the horizon, so try to move away from city lights and buildings for the best view. Give yourself at least 20 minutes to let your eyes get adjusted to the darkness, and use red filters to cover over any flashlights or light-emitting devices you bring along.
Jupiter will shine with a yellow hue in the sky just after sunset, lingering in the sky until dawn, at magnitude -2.7. (Magnitude is a measure of brightness, with negative numbers denoting the brightest objects.) The planet will appear a little brighter than the brightest star in Earth's sky, which is the wintertime Northern Hemisphere star Sirius.
Jupiter will reach its highest point in the sky around midnight local time, moving away from the thick atmosphere of the horizon to let you glimpse the planet at its best.
If you have a pair of binoculars, you can check out the movement of Jupiter's moons, and a telescope will let you spot some of the bands in the atmosphere – as well as, perhaps, the shrinking Great Red Spot.
If you're clouded out tonight or otherwise unable to see the show, there are plenty of opportunities to see Jupiter through the summer.
"Over the weeks following its opposition, Jupiter will reach its highest point in the sky four minutes earlier each night, gradually receding from the pre-dawn morning sky while remaining visible in the evening sky for a few months," the skywatching site In-The-Sky.org said in a statement.
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