Jupiter is one of the brightest objects visible to the naked eye in the night sky, and has been known to ancient civilizations since before recorded history. Jupiter is usually the fourth brightest object in the sky, after the Sun, the Moon and Venus. Although, there are times that times Mars will be brighter in the sky than Jupiter, but this is not always the case. The best time to view Jupiter in the skies in the Pacific Northwest is from May to late September. To view Jupiter, one will need binoculars marked as 7×35, 7×50, or better quality and magnification of at least seven times to see Jupiter as a tiny white disk. Small telescopes will be able to make out the planet with smaller telescopes, as any telescopes 6-inches or larger will allow the observer to view the 4 Galilean moons.
The observation of Jupiter dates back to at least the Babylonian astronomers of the 7th or 8th century BC. The ancient Chinese also observed the orbit of Suìxīng and established their cycle of 12 earthly branches based on its approximate number of years; the Chinese language still uses its name, when referring to years of age. By the 4th century BC, these observations had developed into the Chinese zodiac, with each year associated with a Tai Sui star and god controlling the region of the heavens opposite Jupiter’s position in the night sky; these beliefs survive in some Taoist religious practices and in the East Asian zodiac’s twelve animals, now often popularly assumed to be related to the arrival of the animals before Buddha. The Chinese historian Xi Zezong has claimed that Gan De, an ancient Chinese astronomer, discovered one of Jupiter’s moons in 362 BC with the unaided eye. If accurate, this would predate Galileo’s discovery by nearly two millennia. In his 2nd century work the Almagest, the Hellenistic astronomer Claudius Ptolemaeus constructed a geocentric planetary model based on deferents and epicycles to explain Jupiter’s motion relative to Earth, giving its orbital period around Earth as 4332.38 days, or 11.86 years.
In 1610, Italian polymath Galileo Galilei discovered the four largest moons of Jupiter (now known as the Galilean moons) using a telescope; thought to be the first telescopic observation of moons other than Earth’s. One day after Galileo, Simon Marius independently discovered moons around Jupiter, though he did not publish his discovery in a book until 1614. It was Marius’s names for the four major moons, however, that stuck—Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto. These findings were also the first discovery of celestial motion not apparently centered on Earth. The discovery was a major point in favor of Copernicus’ heliocentric theory of the motions of the planets; Galileo’s outspoken support of the Copernican theory placed him under the threat of the Inquisition.
During the 1660s, Giovanni Cassini used a new telescope to discover spots and colorful bands on Jupiter and observed that the planet appeared oblate; that is, flattened at the poles. He was also able to estimate the rotation period of the planet. In 1690 Cassini noticed that the atmosphere undergoes differential rotation.
The Great Red Spot, a prominent oval-shaped feature in the southern hemisphere of Jupiter, may have been observed as early as 1664 by Robert Hooke and in 1665 by Cassini, although this is disputed. The pharmacist Heinrich Schwabe produced the earliest known drawing to show details of the Great Red Spot in 1831.
The Red Spot was reportedly lost from sight on several occasions between 1665 and 1708 before becoming quite conspicuous in 1878. It was recorded as fading again in 1883 and at the start of the 20th century.
Both Giovanni Borelli and Cassini made careful tables of the motions of Jupiter’s moons, allowing predictions of the times when the moons would pass before or behind the planet. By the 1670s, it was observed that when Jupiter was on the opposite side of the Sun from Earth, these events would occur about 17 minutes later than expected. Ole Rømer deduced that light does not travel instantaneously (a conclusion that Cassini had earlier rejected), and this timing discrepancy was used to estimate the speed of light.
In 1892, E. E. Barnard observed a fifth satellite of Jupiter with the 36-inch (910 mm) refractor at Lick Observatory in California. The discovery of this relatively small object, a testament to his keen eyesight, quickly made him famous. This moon was later named Amalthea. It was the last planetary moon to be discovered directly by visual observation. Infrared image of Jupiter taken by ESO’s Very Large Telescope.
In 1932, Rupert Wildt identified absorption bands of ammonia and methane in the spectra of Jupiter.
In 1955, Bernard Burke and Kenneth Franklin detected bursts of radio signals coming from Jupiter at 22.2 MHz. The period of these bursts matched the rotation of the planet, and they were also able to use this information to refine the rotation rate. Radio bursts from Jupiter were found to come in two forms: long bursts (or L-bursts) lasting up to several seconds, and short bursts (or S-bursts) that had a duration of less than a hundredth of a second.
Scientists discovered that there were three forms of radio signals transmitted from Jupiter.
- Decametric radio bursts (with a wavelength of tens of meters) vary with the rotation of Jupiter, and are influenced by interaction of Io with Jupiter’s magnetic field.
- Decimetric radio emission (with wavelengths measured in centimeters) was first observed by Frank Drake and Hein Hvatum in 1959. The origin of this signal was from a torus-shaped belt around Jupiter’s equator. This signal is caused by cyclotron radiation from electrons that are accelerated in Jupiter’s magnetic field.
- Thermal radiation is produced by heat in the atmosphere of Jupiter.
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