In this article, I will explain if you can see Jupiter with a telescope from Earth or not. If you want to know about it, don’t forget to read the rest of the article.
Yes, you can see Jupiter with a telescope. A scope of 6 inches is enough to see Jupiter. You just need to know where to look and when.
Why Is Jupiter Easier To See?
If you combine Earth, Mars, Mercury, Venus, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune, still you won’t reach the mass of Jupiter. In fact, Jupiter is so large that the mass is twice than the combined mass of other planets.
As Jupiter is SO LARGE, it is far easier to see through a telescope, even easier than Mars, Though Mars is much closer to the Earth.
Mars approaches closest to the Earth every 2 years, where the maximum angular diameter reaches 25.1”. However, at minimum, Jupiter’s angular diameter from the Earth is 29.8”.
The best time to observe Jupiter is when it reaches the opposition. The Jupiter opposition simply means Jupiter is forming a straight line between Sun, Earth, and itself.
The opposition night comes after every 13 months. However, Jupiter remains visible throughout the whole opposition month.
During opposition, the Jupiter disc can reach a radius of 25 arcseconds. It allows us to observe even the smaller details of Jupiter because around this time; the planet appears 60 times larger!
If you have even a small telescope, you can observe the super details of Jupiter’s disc. Along with the 4 Galilean moons, you can even see the surface features of Jupiter.
Jupiter falls into the GoTo planet category for most beginner stargazers.
How To See Jupiter?
Here I am explaining step by step how you can see Jupiter in the night sky:
Step 1: Is Jupiter Observable Tonight?
Jupiter doesn’t always remain visible in the night sky. Like most celestial objects, it remains invisible as it stays below the horizon.
So, before even setting up your telescope, you need to know if Jupiter is in tonight’s sky from your geographic location.
My favorite way to know if Jupiter is observable tonight is by using the software. You can either use free software like Stellarium, or a paid one like Sky Safari. Of course, with the paid one you’ll get much more features.
1. Once you got to Stellarium, you’ll see something like this below. You can either download the software or try out the web version. I am going to select the latter.
2. Once you go to the web version, it should automatically locate your location. If it doesn’t, set your location in the lower left corner.
3. Once you set the location, the screen should offer you a view of the night sky that is observable from your location. Now all you need to do is write the name of the celestial object you want to locate in the search box. I typed ‘Jupiter’ and selected the Jupiter Planet option from the dropdown list.
4. After you select, the software will show you where to look and when. It is as easy as that!
Step 2: Seeing Jupiter Without A Telescope
Earlier I mentioned why Jupiter is so easy to observe from the Earth. It is the third brightest object seen from Earth, after Moon and Venus.
Consequently, you can easily locate and observe Jupiter even without a telescope.
All you need to do is locate Jupiter first using the software. Referring back to the previous section, in Stellarium, when you locate Jupiter, it will offer you additional information like the below:
We can see that the Altitude is set at roughly 19.5 degrees from the South-East horizon.
If you are not clear on how to measure angles, here are some quick tips:
- The horizon is at a 0-degree angle
- The direct overhead is at a 90-degree angle
- The midway between the horizon and the direct overhead is at a 45-degree angle
To roughly measure angles, you can use hand shapes. Click here to learn more about hand shapes and angle measurement.
Step 3: Seeing Jupiter With A Telescope
When seeing Jupiter with a telescope, the first thing you need to keep in mind is don’t start with very high magnification. It will make the planet blurry and hard to focus.
So, start with lower levels of magnification. It will offer a larger field of view which will make it easier to locate and center the planet in the Finderscope.
First, follow step 2 and identify the position of Jupiter with the naked eye. Then set the Finderscope properly and keep Jupiter in the center of your Finderscope.
Now, look through the eyepiece to see if the planet is in view or not. If you have identified Jupiter, the bright object will appear as disc-shaped. You can rotate the focus knob to get a clearer image.
To ensure further if it is Jupiter, you should see 4 dots of light directly in a straight line with Jupiter. These 4 dots can be on one side or split up between 2 sides of the planet.
If you can see these 4 light dots, then it is Jupiter. These 4 light dots are the 4 Galilean Moons.
I’ll also share how you can observe these Galilean moons further.
There are plenty of telescopes with which you can observe Jupiter. However, not all of them are completely geared for beginners.
I have found Gskyer Telescope to be the most beginner-friendly and best suited for observing Jupiter. It has 3 eyepieces: 22mm, 11mm, and 10mm. So, you can even observe the Jupiter Zones & Bands and the Great Red Spot with this telescope.
If you want my recommendation on what telescope to use for viewing planets, check out my guide on the best telescopes for viewing planets and galaxies.
Checklist: 3 More Targets
Now that we have observed Jupiter, there are 3 more things we can see with a telescope:
- The 4 Galilean Moons of Jupiter. We can observe them even with a very small telescope.
- Jupiter itself has some major bands and zones. We can see the more apparent bands with a small telescope. However, for further details, a larger objective lens and a darker sky will be necessary.
- Finally, we’ll try to see the Great Red Spot. It’s the hardest of them all.
Target 1: The 4 Galilean Moons
The 4 Galilean Moons are Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto (according to the closest from Jupiter to the furthest). These moons are even larger than Pluto so we can observe them.
They have been named the Galilean moons because the famous scientist and astronomer Galileo Galilei first observed them in 1610.
It takes the shortest time to orbit Jupiter. On the other hand, Callisto takes the longest time.
Here are the orbital periods of all the Galilean Moons:
- Io: 42 hours
- Europa: 3.5 days
- Ganymede: 7.2 days
- Callisto: 16.7 days
Observing the moon is similar to observing Jupiter itself. First, locate the moons and their position according to your geolocation with your favorite astronomy software.
With a good telescope and a darker sky, you can observe all of these moons.
Here’s what it looks like on Stellarium:
For observing transits and occultation of the moons, you can use an almanac. Here’s one you can use.
Target 2: Bands & Zones of Jupiter
Now that we have observed the 4 Galilean moons, it is time to look at the next big feature of Jupiter: its cloud bands.
The Jupiter surface has lines of divisions. They are of 2 types: darker and lighter. The darker ones are called bands, and the lighter ones are known as zones.
There are different zones and bands. However, all of them are not visible.
You may need to push the magnification further to spot the different bands and zones. It shouldn’t be a problem as Jupiter is itself HUGE.
If you don’t know yet, the smaller the eyepiece is, the greater the magnification will be. For example, a 10mm eyepiece will give you higher magnification than a 20mm eyepiece. So, don’t hesitate if you need to select a smaller eyepiece.
When changing eyepieces, it is essential to go gradually rather than jump. Do not go from 30mm to 9mm. If you use a 30mm eyepiece, shift to 20mm first, then 10mm, and continue gradually.
Don’t always go for higher magnification as it can cost image quality. There needs to be a balance between the magnification and the image quality.
Most smaller telescopes can’t handle too much magnification.
Target 3: The Great Red Spot
To observe the great red spot, first, we need to look at the disc of Jupiter.
Looking closely, you’ll see that it is not that spherical. The disc is fattier in the middle, more like a squashed ball. This is because of the very high spinning speed of the planet on its axis.
The Earth spins on its axis at a speed of 1000 MPH, which gives us a 24-hour day.
However, Jupiter spins at 28,000 MPH, which makes one rotation period on its axis only 9.5 hours long!
So, you can imagine how fast Jupiter rotates.
The thing is, with Jupiter, the Great Red Spot spins too at the same speed. It faces the Earth at least 2 times per earth day.
So, to observe it, all we need is the timings and, of course, a telescope capable enough to see it.
Most astronomy software like Sky Safari will provide you with the transit timings. So, it won’t be a problem to get that information.
Once you know the transit times, you need to have a telescope that is powerful enough to observe the red spot.
Though the Great Red Spot, a powerful raging storm on Jupiter’s surface, is double the size of the Earth, the distance still makes it quite hard to see.
To properly observe the Red Spot, you’ll need favorable conditions like a very dark sky. Also, the best time to observe the Great Red Spot is when Jupiter is in its opposition.
You’ll probably need to use 100x to 150x magnification too.
Also, you can use a green telescope filter to increase the odds of observing the spot.
Lastly, DON’T GIVE UP! Seeing the Great Red Spot is a challenge and requires much effort and expertise. Don’t expect to see it on the first try. Try again and again.
Hopefully, you can see the GIANT STORM soon!