Observers in Western Europe watching the full Moon rise in the southeast late into the evening of Monday, 30 April cannot fail to notice the conspicuous ‘star’ a short distance to its right. This is Jupiter, the solar system’s largest planet, which is rapidly approaching opposition and its closest approach to our planet for the year.
Jupiter is nearest to Earth at 11:55 UT on 10 May 2018 when the separation of our two worlds is almost 4.4 astronomical units, or 658 million kilometres (409 million miles). Jupiter is around 660 million kilometres distant on the UK evening of 30 April, but the planet’s mighty 140,000-kilometre-wide globe — almost 11 times the diameter of Earth — requires a telescope magnifying just 41× to enlarge it to the same size as the adjacent Moon appears to the unaided eye.The planet’s rapid rotation will have carried the Great Red Spot out of view by the time observers in the British Isles get a chance to observe Jupiter on the last night of April, but the four large Galilean moons Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto will be on show. Their configuration changes rapidly from night to night due to the moons’ orbital motion, but the graphic above will help you identify which is which on the night in question.
Predictions of Jovian phenomena for a given date, time and location are always available through our interactive online Almanac.