So close and yet...

So close and yet...
  • If you have a telescope then as you look at Jupiter you will be able to see its four largest moons on 7 May, if the sky is clear

If the sky is clear on Sunday 7 May then there will be a very close conjunction between the moon and the planet Jupiter. They will be so close that they will almost touch and will make a fine view in binoculars or a small telescope. Jupiter will be just below the almost full moon.

The moon travels around the Earth at an amazing 2,288mph and so can travel its own diameter in less than an hour. If you can observe the moon and Jupiter at intervals during the evening you will be amazed to see just how quickly the moon travels as it passes by Jupiter. The closest point that the two will come together will occur at around midnight.

If you have a telescope then as you look at Jupiter you will be able to see its four largest moons. Callisto, Europa and Io are to the left of the planet with Ganymede, the largest moon in the solar system, to the right. Our moon takes about 28 days to make one orbit; Io travels around Jupiter in just under two days.

During the course of an evening the moons can be seen moving in relation to each other and to the planet. Through a modest-sized telescope the shadows cast by the four moons can also be seen travelling across the face of Jupiter.

Our moon is the only one in the solar system that doesn’t have a name; all of the others have either a name or at least a number. In ancient times the year was divided up into full moons and as there are usually twelve full moons in each year this was an easy, but not very accurate, way of measuring the seasons. Some of these names are still in use today; most people have heard of the ‘harvest moon’ occurring in September and the ‘Hunter’s moon’ in October.