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'Extraordinary' views expected as Jupiter makes closest approach in decades

Experts say you'll need a large telescope to see the Red Spot, but even a good pair of binoculars will be enough to catch some details.

Stargazers have two good reasons to look at Jupiter Monday night. 

NASA says the gas giant will reach opposition — rising in the East as the sun sets in the West — making it look larger and brighter than usual for those with clear skies

Jupiter's opposition happens every 13 months, but it coincides with a far more unusual event Monday: The planet's closest approach to Earth since 1963.

"Jupiter’s closest approach to Earth rarely coincides with opposition, which means this year’s views will be extraordinary," NASA wrote in a blog post. 

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Close approaches happen because the planets don't orbit the sun in perfect circles, passing each other at varying distances. At its furthest point, Jupiter is about 600 million miles away from Earth. When it makes its closest approach Monday, NASA says it will be about 367 million miles away. 

How to watch Jupiter's opposition:

So will you be able to see Jupiter's famous stripes and swirls? NASA astrophysicist Adam Kobelski said a pair of good binoculars should let you see some banding and three or four of the planet's many moons. A larger telescope will show you more details on Jupiter's bands and Great Red Spot.

“The views should be great for a few days before and after Sept. 26,” Kobelski said in NASA's blog post. “So, take advantage of good weather on either side of this date to take in the sight. Outside of the Moon, it should be one of the (if not the) brightest objects in the night sky.”

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Earth's moon, which can make faint details in the night sky hard to spot when full, will be close to new Monday night — the new moon is on Sunday.

Kobelski said a dark, dry spot with high elevation would be best for stargazers taking in this sight. Whether you use binoculars or a larger telescope, stability will be key.

That's not all!

It's a busy week for Jupiter. NASA's Juno spacecraft, which has orbited the gas giant for six years, will come within 222 miles of Jupiter's icy moon Europa. Researchers are hoping Juno can get some of the highest-resolution images ever taken of the moon's surface and collect valuable data. 

Europa is one of four "Galilean satellites" — Jupiter's largest moons, discovered in 1610 by famed astronomer Galileo. Scientists predict that a salty ocean lies beneath Europa's frozen surface. 

Juno has sent back images of Jupiter and its moons for years, but NASA recently unveiled unprecedented shots of the planet from the James Webb Space Telescope. The artificially-colored infrared images captured Jupiter's northern and southern lights, the Great Red Spot, and countless smaller storms. 

Juno's mission will run until 2025 or until the end of the spacecraft's life. 

NASA's next big plan for Jupiter exploration is the Europa Clipper, a spacecraft intended to explore Europa in nearly 50 flybys and find out whether its conditions could support life. The craft is currently being assembled, with a launch planned in 2024. 

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