Jupiter is the largest planet in our solar system and is steeped in mystery and wonder. From it’s Giant Red Spot to its plethora of interesting and unique moons, Jupiter has many sights to behold. Knowing that it is no wonder that it is one of the primary things that drive people to pick up astronomy.
How difficult is it to find and spot Jupiter with a telescope? Do you need a large and expensive telescope to see it? Are the views worth it?
We are going to go into great detail about each of these questions and more.
Finding Jupiter In The Sky
Jupiter has some unique features that make it relatively easy to spot in the night sky. As the fifth planet from the sun, it is relatively near to Earth compared to some of the other far-out gas giant planets. It is the largest object in our solar system after the sun itself so it has a large reflective area. This gives it a large presence in the sky that you can pick out with the naked eye under the right conditions.
Jupiter appears to be slightly larger and slightly larger than the average star. If you hone in on it with your unaided eyes, you will notice that it does not twinkle like true stars, it appears more static.
Jupiter has a long, but convenient, orbital schedule. One Jupiter year is roughly equivalent to twelve Earth years. This means that Jupiter remains located in the same part of the sky for a full year at a time. Unlike other planets, such as Venus, which moves through the sky very quickly, Jupiter’s orbital pattern allows us to know where the planet is going to be in the night sky for long periods of time.
Finding Jupiter With Your Eyes
First, look up where Jupiter is going to be located in the night sky. The easiest way to do this is to find out what constellation it is currently embedded in and use that as a guide. Jupiter will only wander out of a constellation after a full year of occupying the same part of the sky so this method will last you a long time.
Next, pick out the star that doesn’t fit in the constellation. It will be large, bright and flat looking. This is Jupiter!
All of this can be done without the aid of any sort of optical device. In fact, finding the spot in the sky where Jupiter is located is probably easiest to do with the naked eye if there is not too much light pollution washing out the stars. Or you can use binoculars to help pick out Jupiter from the crowd.
Tips on How to See Jupiter Better With a Telescope
Below we will go over five simple tips that will get you better views of Jupiter.
1. Reducing Atmospheric Effects
If you observe Jupiter with your telescope when it is low on the horizon, the light coming from its surface will pass through a longer path in our atmosphere. When high up in the sky, its filtered rays have less of an atmospheric journey to make before they reach your eyes! Try to plan your observing session at a time where this planet’s ideal position can be observed – find out what times are best for viewing based on where you live and adjust accordingly so that all who look upon these spectacular sights may enjoy them as much as possible.
2. Remove Air Turbulence Issues
There are many factors that can affect the quality of viewing through your telescope. For example, avoid placing it anywhere concrete because as soon as sunlight hits you’re left with a hot surface to peer at from nightfall onward. The heat escaping into the air above may make Jupiter’s image appear distorted in your viewfinder. We also recommend avoiding peering directly over our neighbor’s house where they might be heating their home during cold nights too. This could cause jumbled results when looking for smaller planets or stars out there!
3. Choose The Correct Seeing Conditions
One of the most important things to take into account when stargazing is the seeing or state of your atmosphere. The air around us moves and swirls uncontrollably- even during an observing session! If you notice that Jupiter appears very blurry through a telescope despite setting everything up perfectly, it’s more likely due to bad “seeing.”
4. Light Pollution
There are many sources of light pollution these days, and some of the most common include street lights. Unfortunately for astronomers who want to observe Jupiter in a telescope, this unwanted glow can sometimes be an issue when trying to see details on it. Thankfully there is now a map that lets you check how bad your area has been affected by light pollution where if it’s too high will let you know about places nearby with less or no lighting at all!
5. Outside Conditions
If you’re using a refracting telescope or reflecting telescope to view Jupiter, your equipment will be affected by the outside temperature. The different metallic parts and mirrors may slightly expand or retract depending if it is hot or cold which can affect the quality of the image seen through an eyepiece of a scope. We recommend leaving your telescope out for at least 20mins so that it gets used to any changes in external temperatures more quickly before viewing such amazing sights!
When Is the Best Time to Observe Jupiter in a Telescope?
The best time to view Jupiter through your home telescope is when it reaches opposition from the sun in our sky. When Earth and Jupiter’s orbits sync on opposite sides of the Sun, amateur astronomers have their perfect opportunity for viewing this planet that will appear brighter than usual and with excellent visibility.
This year, Jupiter’s opposition will happen on the 14th of July! During these weeks surrounding this date, you’ll be able to spot it most nights and conditions for observation will be ideal.
When is Jupiter at its Brightest in the Sky?
How brightly we view Jupiter has to do with how close we are to the planet. About where Earth and Jupiter are in relation to each other, as they make their individual orbits around the sun.
Jupiter 2021 Brightness Charts
It is important to keep track of the position of your planet’s brightness, as it will change throughout the year.
You can see that at the beginning, planet Jupiter shines at a steady rate in the early part of the year getting brighter (the lowest magnitude) between June to September. As winter gives way to spring, Jupiter will start to lose a little brightness in the night sky.
The closer the object is to us, the brighter it appears in our sky. Jupiter steadily moves closer to Earth throughout 2021 peaking in July. So its brightness changes during that time period.
You’ll see that Jupiter is furthest from us as it goes around the Sun in the early part of the year. Before slowly moving back towards us again then moving away from us again in the latter part of the year.
Below we will take a look at how big Jupiter is in our night sky in 2021.
Jupiter looks larger between June and September as you may expect. It will steadily enlarge thought the year to this point before getting smaller as the year closes out.
We take a look at the below chart that tracks the size of Jupiter during 2021. The diameter is taken from the middle of each month and is measured in arcseconds.
Choosing A Telescope To View Jupiter
The proximity and size of Jupiter mean you do not need a hefty or professional grade telescope to get the views you want. Standard telescopes with apertures of 70mm and up will be able to see Jupiter with relative ease. Unlike other planets, Jupiter is not a monolith in terms of telescopic potential. The Jupiter system is a complex and varied cluster of celestial objects and what telescope you need is entirely up to you.
If you simply want to pick out Jupiter, get a good bead on it, and view it casually with friends, you will not need a special telescope at all. Any standard telescope will be able to get a good view of Jupiter and will even be able to pick out the Galilean moons as well if the conditions are right. There is a reason Galileo was able to pick them out hundreds of years ago, they are pretty easy to spot!
If that is all you want out of Jupiter, then you do not have to sweat the details in choosing a telescope. If you are looking for more, then there are some things to keep in mind. Upgrading from a standard telescope can vastly increase the potential viewing of the Jupiter system.
Choosing More Power
Telescopes with a higher power, more contrast, and accessories will be able to pick out a lot more. Jupiter itself has many cloud bands, the Great Red Spot storm, and deeply rich colored zones in its atmosphere that can be enhanced and seen with better equipment.
In addition to the Galilean moons, Jupiter has over sixty other satellites and rocks orbiting its massive girth. You won’t be able to see all of them but the stronger the telescope, the more you will be able to pick out.
It all depends on how seriously you want to view Jupiter. Are you just a casual viewer? Do you want to see the Great Red Spot? Are you interested in astrophotography?
You can use our telescope comparison table to help you find the perfect telescope. Or you can check out our guide for the Best Telescopes For Viewing Planets.
Getting high contrast, better colored, images require more powerful (and expensive) telescopes in order to process the images the way you are looking for. Astrophotography requires even higher contrast still, with very high focal ratios and super quality glass and optics.
More Tips and Tricks For Best Viewing Of Jupiter
Although finding and getting a lock on Jupiter is relatively easy compared to some night sky objects, there are things you can do to ensure the best viewing experience possible. Some of these are good tips in general and others apply directly to Jupiter.
First, darker is always better. This is a good rule of thumb for all astronomy but it especially applies to Jupiter as well. The darker it is, the clearer Jupiter will be. Unlike stars and galaxies, Jupiter reflects the light from the sun. Light pollution can easily wash out the images of Jupiter and make your views seem blurry, static, or fuzzy. Choosing the darkest sky available will increase your chances of getting a good view of the planet itself and especially its nearby moons.
The Horizon Factor
Do not try and view Jupiter when it is near the horizon. Sometimes Jupiter appears just over the horizon or low in the sky. This is the worst angle to try and view Jupiter from as you are going to be dealing with a lot more inhibitors to a good viewing experience. Light at the horizon travels through more atmosphere here on Earth which greatly increases the potential for atmospheric interference with the light. These distortions can make viewing Jupiter very difficult.
These horizon distortions are also what creates beautiful sunrises and sunsets. The bending of light and color that produces a stunning sunset is the same physics that can ruin your view of Jupiter! If possible, wait until Jupiter is high in the sky. Jupiter regularly appears very high in the sky and that is the best point in which to try and snag a great view of the gas giant.
Be aware of other potential atmospheric pollutants and distortions that could hamper clear views of Jupiter. Even if it is high in the sky, the planet can still be subjected to other dampeners. Heat is a big one. If you live near any sort of industry that gives off heat or large patches of asphalt or concrete. These can put up a lot of vapor and heat into the air that will distort your view of Jupiter.
If you ever see the wavy look in the air when the heat is rising off a flat surface, that same distortion can happen in the atmosphere as well. It is hard to see with the naked eye but it will be picked up by your telescope.
Don’t Give Up
Lastly, if you think you have done everything right and Jupiter still doesn’t look quite as sharp as you would like, it may not be you. Some new astronomers get easily discouraged when they think they have followed all of these steps perfectly only to find Jupiter fuzzy and out of focus. They blame their telescope or they blame themselves. But it might be the atmosphere again.
Super high thin clouds, a high particle count per million, or even things like passing planes. Can all distort your clear view of Jupiter and you won’t be able to tell. Unless you are checking the pollen or particle count (PPM) daily. You might go out and find that the sky is clogged with microscopic things that are preventing the clear images of Jupiter from reaching you. Don’t get frustrated!
Luckily, Jupiter stays put in the sky for long periods of time so you can always come back and try again another night.
What does Jupiter look like through a telescope?
Jupiters Great red spot
The great red spot is Jupiter’s most famous feature. This high-pressure storm spans the size of 2 Earth and can be seen with an amateur telescope if it is at least 8″ in diameter, which would mean you might catch a glimpse from time to time as this giant planet rotates on its axis!
The great red spot is however best seen when doing astrophotography and stacking many pictures together to see much more details and colors.
Jupiter’s Belts and zones
Jupiter is an interesting telescopic target thanks to its surface features made up of different colored bands and belts. Even in a small telescope, you will be able to see the difference between zones along with the planet’s north and south pole. Certain types of planetary filters can increase the contrast between these colors for greater viewing quality!
Even with a small telescope, you should be able to see the 4 large moons that orbit Jupiter. These are Io (one of the most volcanically active objects in our solar system), Europa(a vast ocean beneath its icy crust and one of at least six worlds where life might exist beyond Earth according to NASA), Ganymede (the largest moon) and Callisto. Due to Jupiter’s enormous gravity, they all travel fast so even if you’re not seeing them on day 1 or 2 keep looking because these may change positions around it!
The more than 60 known moons that orbit Jupiter have four major ones: Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto which can appear as faint dots when viewed through any scope.
Telescope views of Jupiter
One of the first things one might notice when observing Jupiter is how squashed its shape gets due to its spin. But before you go searching for that perfect sky or telescope, be realistic with what you should and shouldn’t see – many photos online are processed digitally to look better than they do in real life.
2-inch telescope. This entry-level telescope is perfect for beginners and those who are just starting out on their stargazing journey. With this, you can see Jupiter in the night sky- they look like a bright disk that’s slightly squished when viewed with an inexpensive scope of this size. It may not be as breathtaking but it still has its own sense of amazement to witness such beautiful planets right from your backyard!
4-inch telescope. The telescope resolution will have improved, but you’ll still be able to see Jupiter through your eyepiece as a luminous yellow disc. You may even be lucky enough to make out the Galilean moons on each side of this beautiful planet!
8-inch telescope. You can see the cloud bands across Jupiter’s surface at this size. If you are able to get a clear view of it, then you will be able to observe these details in greater detail than before! With smaller telescopes, they may even allow for the use of filters that enhance colors and overall image quality.
10-inch telescope. A scope with this aperture size will collect enough light to create a very clear picture of Jupiter in your eyepiece. Combined with a longer focal length and you’ll see the planet, great red spot, contrast bands, and zones as well as main moons clearly.
Planetary filters to enhance Jupiter’s appearance
Planetary filters are little pieces of optical glass that can be screwed into the rear end of your eyepiece to enhance viewing. For example, they could help increase contrast in Jupiter’s belts and its great red spot with a blue filter or subdue unwanted light pollution glow from bright residential lights with an orange filter.
When you’re first learning about astronomy, it’s best to focus on mastering your optical equipment and making sure that you know how to use all of its capabilities. Once this is done, the sky (no pun intended) will be literally at your fingertips!
It is only then I start to experiment with filters.
A Worthy Sight
There are many reasons that Jupiter is a worthwhile endeavor to try and tackle as an astronomer. It offers a ton of viewing potential from clouds, rich colors, moons, storms, and more. Also, it can be seen with a whole array of telescopes that each can unlock different parts of Jupiter’s potential.
It stays locked into one quadrant of the sky for weeks or months on end making it an easy target to return to, night after night. This is great for practicing, photography, enthusiasts, or someone who has poor viewing conditions. If you keep trying, one day, you will get that stunning view.
Look up where Jupiter is in the sky. Get a fix on it with the unaided eye. Choose your telescope. Point it skywards. Judge the atmospheric conditions and potential distortions. Look through the eyepiece and prepare to be amazed by the rich complexity of our largest neighbor.
We hope that this guide to viewing Jupiter through a telescope has helped you to gain some new information about this fascinating planet and to learn a bit more on how to best observe it.
Investing in a telescope is always a worthwhile way to spend your money, and astronomy can be a very enjoyable hobby.
If you enjoy Observing Planets Through A Telescope then you will love that we have on offer Venus, Mars, Saturn, Mercury, Uranus, Neptune guide to help you get the best views. If you enjoy plant facts we also have this topic covered including Jupiter facts that I hope you enjoy.