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A bright ‘star’ shines in the evening sky – one that really shines brightly

A bright ‘star’ shines in the evening sky – one that really shines brightly

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The bright “star” that can be clearly seen in the east turns out to be the largest planet in the solar system. At second glance there is much more.

MUNICH – If you look to the east in the early darkness of the evening, you can see a strikingly bright “star” that is already visible at dusk. As the night progresses, it moves across the sky until it disappears in the west in the early morning hours. But what actually is this radiant celestial body?

It’s Jupiter, the second brightest planet we can see from Earth. Only Venus, which can currently be seen as a “morning star” until sunrise, surpasses Jupiter in brightness. The giant gas planet is currently present in the sky most of the night. In fact, it appears long before sunset: shortly after 3 p.m., you can see Jupiter deep in the east, if it’s not too bright from the sun. But once dusk falls, the gas giant appears in the sky.

Jupiter shines like a “bright star” in the east in the evening. (Archive photo) © imago Images/VWPics

Jupiter lights up in the eastern sky in the evening

It shines in the sky until approximately five in the morning, then Jupiter disappears in the west. The interplanetary giant is indeed impressive and beautiful to look at with the naked eye. But its viewing becomes especially impressive through small telescopes: this allows Jupiter’s four largest moons – Io, Callisto, Ganymede and Europa – to be seen in the vicinity of the planet.

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If you look at Jupiter several times throughout the night, you will witness a historic spectacle: the moons move around Jupiter, and sometimes one of the moons disappears behind the planet and later appears on the other side. This view, in 1610, prompted the Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei to realize the existence of celestial bodies that do not revolve around the Earth. This discovery marked the beginning of the end of the geocentric worldview (“all celestial bodies revolve around the Earth”) that characterized society at the time.

Jupiter’s moons are of great interest for research

Today, the Galileo moons, as Jupiter’s four largest moons are called, are of great research interest. That’s why the European Space Agency’s Juice space probe is currently on its way to Jupiter and its icy moons. Jupiter’s moon Europa, in particular, raises scientists’ hopes: Could there really be life there? NASA’s Europa Clipper space probe is scheduled to examine this in more detail from 2024.

If you look at Jupiter with binoculars or a telescope, you can see its four largest moons - the Galilean moons.  (archive photo)
If you look at Jupiter with binoculars or a telescope, you can see its four largest moons – the Galilean moons. (Archive photo) © IMAGO/David Becker

Jupiter in the night sky shows the way to other objects

Jupiter can currently serve as a guide to other fascinating celestial bodies throughout the night. It is located near the open Pleiades star cluster. It can be seen with the naked eye as a blurry spot in the sky, and using small binoculars you can see some of the many stars that make up the Pleiades. Ice giant Uranus can also be found between Jupiter and the Pleiades using binoculars or a telescope.

Jupiter will be visible in the sky for a few more months. In December 2023, the planet will remain in the sky until after midnight. Until March 2023, Jupiter will disappear earlier and earlier in the west, and the gaseous planet will no longer be seen in the night sky during the month of April. The planet appears in the sky again only in the summer, and can be seen on the mornings of June and July.

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Automated assistance was used in writing this article by the editorial team. The article was carefully examined by editor Tanya Banner before publication