Tonight, watch the moon and Jupiter enjoy their final encounter of 2023 in the night sky

By | December 22, 2023

The moon will meet Jupiter, the solar system’s largest planet, for the last time in 2023 on Friday (December 22) when the two celestial bodies make a close approach to the sky. Around the same time, the two celestial bodies will share the same right ascension, an arrangement astronomers call a conjunction.

The 10-day-old moon will be 86% illuminated during its close approach, with the illuminated lunar surface currently growing as the moon moves toward the last full moon of 2023, the December Cold Moon, on Tuesday, December 26.

From New York City, the pre-Christmas encounter between the moon and Jupiter will be visible shortly after the two celestial bodies rise above the horizon around 1:18 p.m. EST (1818 GMT), according to In the air. The 10-day-old moon will pass just 2 degrees north of Jupiter during the encounter, while both celestial bodies are in the constellation Aries, the Aries.

The close approach and conjunction of the moon and the solar system’s largest planet will be visible until just before sunset around 2:50 a.m. EST (07:50 GMT). That means sky watchers will have a few hours to observe this conjunction after the sun sets and the sky darkens at 4:31 PM EST (2131 GMT). Although this is a close approximation, the moon and Jupiter will still be too far apart to be seen together in the narrow field of view of a telescope, but should be visible together in the wide field of view of binoculars.

Related: Night sky, December 2023: What you can see tonight

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A Celestron telescope on a white background

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During the conjunction, the moon will be at magnitude -12.5, while Jupiter will be fainter at magnitude -2.7, with the prefix minus indicating a particularly bright object in the sky above Earth.

During the close approach, the moon Jupiter will dominate the sky in terms of size, but this is of course just an effect of our perspective from Earth. The moon is much closer to our planet, the third planet from the sun, than Jupiter, the fifth planet in the solar system, but the latter greatly exceeds the other in size.

Jupiter is about 89,000 miles (143,000 km) wide, making it 11 times the size of Earth, and our planet is about four times the size of the moon, which is about 2,200 miles (3,500 kilometers) in diameter. That means it would take at least 44 moons to span the diameter of Jupiter.

In fact, the gas giant is so big that it has moons larger than Earth’s moon and even some planets in the solar system. Jupiter’s largest moon is Ganymede, which is also the largest moon in the solar system.

With a diameter of 5,268 km, Ganymede is larger than dwarf planet Pluto and even wider than the planet Mercury, which has a diameter of 4,879 km. Jupiter’s moon, Titan, is also larger than Mercury, but this is a result of its atmosphere having swollen.

Jupiter is currently about 400 million miles from Earth, which is about 4.32 times the distance between Earth and the Sun. This means that light takes about 35 minutes to travel from our planet, past Mars, and to Jupiter.

The moon, on the other hand, is 384,400 kilometers from Earth, while the gas giant is an average of 715 million kilometers from our planet. That means the Earth-moon system would fit within its current distance to Jupiter about 1687 times.

When the gas giant is closest to Earth, it is still 365 million miles (588 million km) away, while at its farthest Jupiter is 601 million miles (967 million km) away. That means the distance to Jupiter varies by 386 million kilometers, a change in distance alone large enough to fit the Earth-Moon system within it about 988 times!

Although this is the last encounter between the moon and Jupiter this year, it won’t be long before the two celestial bodies meet again. The moon will next make a close approach to Jupiter on Thursday, January 18, just a week after the first new moon of 2024 and the start of next year’s first full lunar cycle.

If you’re hoping to get a glimpse of the next conjunction between the moon and Jupiter, our guides to the best telescopes And best binoculars are a great place to start.

If you want to take pictures of these celestial bodies or the night sky in general, check out our guide on how to photograph the moon, How to photograph planetsas well as ours best cameras for astrophotography And best lenses for astrophotography.

Editor’s Note: If you take an image of the moon with Jupiter and would like to share it with Space.com readers, send your photo(s), comments, and your name and location to spacephotos@space.com.

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