Looking Up: All Aboard The Polar Express

Jun 3, 2019

view from NASA's Eyes on the Solar System. July 4, 2016
Credit NASA/JPL-Caltech / nasa.gov

After a winter retreat, the king of the planets, at least in this solar system, is back in our night sky. Hal tells us more on this week's episode of Looking Up...

Alright, I admit it – sometimes I get a wee bit technical and detailed in these shows, and so this week I want to answer the question many of you may have in mind right now – what the heck is that really bright star in the southeast sky?

Well, that’s no star, it’s our old friend Jupiter, returning to the summer skies after hiding out unobservable near the Sun all winter. And Jupiter will be rising near sunset and setting near sunrise for the whole month of June.

I love Jupiter and you should too! While the Sun makes up 99.96% of all the mass in the Solar System, leaving only .04% for all the planets, moons, asteroids, comets and everything else. But guess what? Jupiter is very much the giant planet around here, containing over 99% of the leftover matter. You could put 1300 Planet Earths inside Jupiter and it wouldn’t even burp, though that’s mostly because planets don’t burp.

Right now there is a remarkable spacecraft called Juno flying around the planet, but unlike previous missions, Juno is flying a “polar” orbit, meaning it orbits over the north and south poles of Jupiter, rather than around the equator. This is giving scientists wonderful images of the polar regions of Jupiter previously unknown to us. And you too can see the wonderful pictures by the thousands, just visit NASA.gov and navigate to the Juno section, it’s well worth the keystrokes.

If you’d like to take a closer look at Jupiter, or any of the other wonderful and amazing things in the sky, please visit csastro.org for a link to information on our monthly meetings and our free public star parties.