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Jupiter as seen by Hubble
As Jupiter made its nearest approach to Earth in a year, the Hubble Space Telescope viewed the solar system’s largest planet in all of its up-close glory. This picture was taken on April 3 from a distance of 415 million miles. (STScI / ESA / NASA / GSFC Photo / A. Simon)

Jupiter is as close as it’ll get to Earth this year, and the Hubble Space Telescope took advantage of the opportunity with a stunning picture that shows off the giant planet’s best-known spots.

Astronomer Amy Simon of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center arranged to have Hubble trained on the hemisphere that includes Jupiter’s Great Red Spot and another whirling storm to the south, dubbed “Red Spot Jr.” You can also see white spots speckling the planet’s cloud tops.

The interplay of orbits for Jupiter and Earth brought our two planets just 415 million miles apart, which means Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 could pick up features as small as 80 miles across.

Hubble isn’t the only probe eyeing Jupiter: NASA’s Juno orbiter has been making passes over the planet since last July, coming as close as 2,600 miles. The most recent pass took place on March 27 and resulted in spectacular pictures of swirling cloud patterns.

You don’t have to be an interplanetary robot to get a glimpse of Jupiter, of course. The close approach, known as opposition, takes place every year when Jupiter is directly opposite the sun as seen from Earth. Friday’s opposition is prime time for seeing our solar system’s biggest world sparkling in the night sky.

If the skies are clear, you can’t miss Jupiter: It looks like a super-bright star – rising in the east after sunset, reaching its highest point around midnight, and setting in the west as the sun is rising.

If you look through binoculars, you just might spot Jupiter’s four biggest moons as nearby specks. Check out the viewing guides from Sky & Telescope and EarthSky for additional pointers.

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