Jimmy Westlake: Jupiter — Giant of the solar system | CraigDailyPress.com

Jimmy Westlake: Jupiter — Giant of the solar system

Jimmy Westlake

By the time Jupiter crests the mountaintops in the east, the constellation of Leo the Lion is in full view. Look for the “backward question mark” that marks Leo’s head and mane, punctuated by its alpha star Regulus. Dazzling Jupiter will be closest to Earth for this year on March 8. Look for it rising in the east around 8 p.m. in early March.

In our solar system, Jupiter is the undisputed king of planets. It has nearly 2.5 times the mass of all the other planets combined — including Pluto.

It could swallow 1,300 Earths inside its enormous volume. You could string 35 Earth-sized pearls around Jupiter's king-sized girth. It is accompanied by 67 moons, more than any other planet.

It has the most powerful magnetic field, largest storm, biggest moon and hundreds of asteroids that share its 12-year orbit around the sun. In many ways, the Jupiter system is similar to a miniature solar system within our big solar system.

Jupiter wears the crown when it comes to ruling the midnight sky, too, outshining any other object, except for the moon. Jupiter will be at opposition, its closest point to Earth, and brightest in our sky on March 8, when it will rise in the east just as the sun sets in the west.

It will gleam brilliantly from high overhead in our midnight sky. On the night of opposition, Jupiter will be a stone's throw from Earth — about 412-million miles.

Steady binoculars or any small telescope will reveal Jupiter's four giant traveling companions, discovered by Galileo in 1610 — Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto

Recommended Stories For You

Io is the most volcanically active world in the solar system. Europa contains more water in its ocean than all of Earth's oceans combined. Ganymede is the solar system's largest moon, larger than the planet Mercury. Callisto comes in a close third in size among the solar system's moons.

Watch as the Galilean moons dance around Jupiter and constantly change their positions from night to night. With a medium-sized telescope, you also can see the two dark cloud stripes straddling Jupiter's equator and maybe even the famous Great Red Spot or the shadow of a moon cast on the cloud tops.

This spring, Jupiter will shine down on us from the constellation of Leo, the Lion, not far from Leo's alpha star, Regulus. Don't miss the spectacular view when March's, nearly full, Egg Moon rises alongside dazzling Jupiter on the evening of March 21.

The student members of the Colorado Mountain College SKY Club, in conjunction with Steamboat Today, will host a free public "Jupiter Watch" program at 7 p.m. Wednesday, March 9 in the Allbright Family Auditorium on CMC's Alpine campus in Steamboat Springs.

Following my indoor program entitled "Jupiter: Giant of the Solar System," visitors will have the opportunity to see Jupiter and its moons through one of several telescopes set up outside (weather permitting). We hope to see you there.

Professor Jimmy Westlake teaches astronomy and physics at Colorado Mountain College's Alpine Campus. His "Celestial News" column appears weekly in Steamboat Today and his "Cosmic Moment" radio spots can be heard on local radio station KFMU. Check out Westlake's astrophotography website at Professor Jimmy Westlake teaches astronomy and physics at Colorado Mountain College’s Alpine Campus. His “Celestial News” column appears weekly in Steamboat Today and his “Cosmic Moment” radio spots can be heard on local radio station KFMU. Check out Westlake’s astrophotography website at jwestlake.com.Professor Jimmy Westlake teaches astronomy and physics at Colorado Mountain College's Alpine Campus. His "Celestial News" column appears weekly in Steamboat Today and his "Cosmic Moment" radio spots can be heard on local radio station KFMU. Check out Westlake's astrophotography website at jwestlake.com.