The moon and Jupiter are gearing up for an inauguration show of their own: On January 21, the day Barack Obama is sworn in for his second term, Mother Earth’s satellite and the solar system’s largest planet will shine down brilliantly on the festivities, less than a finger’s width apart.
The two will be close together at sunset but draw even closer a few hours later, depending on where you are. It will be visible in the southeastern sky starting at about 7 p.m. Pacific Standard Time, 8:30 p.m. Mountain, 10 p.m. Central and 11:30 p.m. Eastern, according to Sky and Telescope. Part of what makes it so spectacular is the waxing gibbous moon’s near-fullness.
“This is an amazing sight to the unaided eye, through binoculars, and in small, wide-field telescopes at magnifications of 40× or lower,” Sky and Telescope said.
In fact Jupiter will appear so close to the moon that in parts of the world it will pass behind it, in a moon-Jupiter version of an eclipse, Sky and Telescope reported.
Those with a sharp enough eye will even be able to spot Jupiter before sunset, especially if it’s clear and you’ve got binoculars. Those with access to a telescope can catch a glimpse of its iconic Great Red Spot between 9 p.m. and 10:40 p.m. EST, Sky and Telescope said, as well as watch Jupiter’s moon Europa pass in front of the gas giant between 10:22 p.m. and 12:46 a.m. EST.
The last moon-Jupiter conjunction happened at Christmas, and the next one occurs on Saint Patrick’s Day. However that will be the last one until 2026, EarthSky.org reports.