February is a good month to look up at the evening sky. Venus, which is our sky’s brightest planet, and a more modestly-bright Mars both appear close together in the western sky after sunset.
But it is that big and distant Jupiter (the second-brightest planet) that shows up in the east as darkness falls. This month is particularly a good time as Jupiter gets some major lighting effect by being opposite the sun this month. Astronomers call this opposition to the sun because the sunlight is directly reflecting the light to Earth.
Jupiter will be at its brightest for 2015. If you like to mark the actual time of some of these celestial observations, today is your day as the Earth passes between Jupiter and the sun.
Jupiter’s closest approach to Earth for the year always falls on or its opposition date. Today it will be a mere 404 million miles (650 million kilometers) from Earth.
I will be heading outside after I click the publish button here into this early evening to look for Jupiter low in the east. If I’m still up at midnight, I can look for it at its highest, and at daybreak it will have moved low in the west. Pretty amazing.