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New Jupiter image captured by Hubble Space Telescope

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Enlarge Image Jupiter in all its glory as seen by Hubble.                  NASA ESA and A. Simon

The largest planet in our solar system, Jupiter, is at its closest approach to the Earth this year, which is good news for sky watchers. It's special because when celestial objects are directly opposite the sun, they appear brighter in the sky.

The giant planet is now at "opposition", positioned directly opposite the sun from the Earth.

The bright, gaseous planet (-2.5 magnitude) rises at sunset and sets with the following morning's sunrise, explained Geoff Chester, an astronomer at the U.S. Naval Observatory. Jupiter will rise over the eastern mountains just as the sun goes down in the west.

With its 67 (!) moons, Jupiter is kind of like a mini solar system inside our own.

Opposition also marks Jupiter's closest point to us, and the planet appears brighter in the night sky than at any other time in the year, NASA said in a statement on Thursday.

Jupiter comes to opposition once per year, when the faster-moving Earth gains a lap on the sluggish giant and passes between Jupiter and the sun.

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"With a simple pair of binoculars, you can spot three or four of Jupiter's largest moons", says AccuWeather meteorologist Dave Samuhel.

Take note that Jupiter glows with a steady, silvery-white light, whereas blue-white Sirius seems to scintillate.

Also on the night of opposition, Jupiter will shine only 1/3 degree away from a little star called Theta Virginis.

"The final image shows a sharp view of Jupiter and reveals a wealth of features in its dense atmosphere", NASA and the ESA, which cooperate on the Hubble project, said in a statement. And with a telescope, you should be able to see a few of the individual cloud belts on Jupiter, and perhaps even the Great Red Spot. One question: Why is Jupiter's famous Great Red Spot - which is so large it could engulf the entire Earth - mysteriously shrinking? .

The luminous giant saunters into the night heavens amid the Virgo constellation, ascending in the east around 7:30 p.m., and becoming visible over the trees around 8 p.m. Earth and the Sun are on opposite sides of the sky, that's the closest we ever get.

To take this picture, the Hubble Space Station used its Wide Field Camera 3 tool which can capture details as close as 80 miles, across the atmosphere of Jupiter.

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