Jupiter rolls into view

By Phil Plait | September 9, 2011 1:10 pm

If you go outside a couple of hours after sunset tonight and look east, you’ll see a very bright "star" in the sky. That’s Jupiter.

If you look at it with a nice telescope equipped with a good camera and filter set, and you have the patience to spend a bit of time afterwards putting the images together into a brief animation, you’ll see this:

Cool, eh? [Make sure you set it to higher resolution to get the full effect.] That was done by Dutch "amateur" astronomer Henk Mannetje Emil Kraaikamp. Jupiter appears to roll across the screen because he aligned all the images on the clouds you can see on the planet; keep your eyes on the Great Red Spot, for example, and you’ll see it doesn’t move inside the frame. So as Jupiter’s rapid rotation (once every ten hours or so) makes it spin visibly even over the time of these observations, which in turn makes it look like it’s rolling.

The dot on the right is the moon Europa, which orbits Jupiter every three and a half days. Its orbital motion relative to Jupiter appears to make it move to the right as Jupiter moves left, and it disappears out of the telescope’s field of view.

My favorite thing is how three dimensional Jupiter looks! The rotation, coupled with how it gets darker near its edge, really gives you the sense that you’re seeing a massive planet spinning. Which, of course, you are.

Jupiter’s moons and even some of its clouds can be seen using binoculars, so if you get a chance, go outside and take a look!

Tip o’ the Equatorial Belt to theritz.

Related posts:

Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity
Juno on its way to Jupiter!
Home, from the start of a long, long journey
Astronomers thankful for return of Jupiter’s belt

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Cool stuff, Pretty pictures
MORE ABOUT: Henk Mannetje, Jupiter

Comments (26)

  1. Now would that blue tinge be coming from the recording device? It’s looks like a color artifact of some sort, or is it actually a gas that appears blue in visible light? I ask because I’m not sure I’ve seen that blue represented in any animated visualizations I’ve seen in the past.

  2. Jupiter is the first planet I saw through a telescope, last week. =P I’m in love already.

  3. Crux Australis

    I have two questions:
    1) Why does the planet get so noticeably darker at the edges?
    1)a) That’s what we call limb darkening, isn’t it?
    2) Why does Europa seem to flash as it orbits? Anything to do with its rotation?

    Well done Henk!

  4. Russell

    I am going to chop down all my neighbors trees if I keep reading this site!

  5. Musical Lottie

    Oh wow, I’m even more excited about my binoculars arriving now that I know I might be able to see some moons and maybe clouds on Jupiter!

  6. Fry-kun

    Sweet! Just saw it in my dinky scope 2 nights ago. Could barely make out the clouds and the 4 moons, but it’s a much different feeling seeing it for yourself.

  7. QuietDesperation

    I really have to get a new scope. :-

    Why does Europa seem to flash as it orbits?

    It’s an emergency beacon! Don’t just sit there! GET HELP!!1!!2!

  8. The limb darkening is because we on Earth are, from Jupiter’s perspective, very close to the Sun, which is the source of light in the picture. It’s as if you were to look at a sphere in an dark room while illuminating it with a flashlight held close to your own head. The parts of Jupiter near the limb are getting illuminated at a lower sun angle.

    That’s why space-probe pictures of Jupiter and Saturn usually make the edge of the planet look so much less fuzzy (though there’s still some fuzziness, since these planets have no definite surface and what you see is all atmosphere). The space probes can get pictures from a direction that is not so near the light source.

  9. How cool to see my animation here!

    @1 the blue tinge on the left is because I made the recordings using a monochrome camera: blue recording after green after red and so on for three hours in a row. This means there is a small time difference (about 2 minutes) between the blue and red recording, and because Jupiter rotates a little bit in that time and the channels are actually aligned on the details on the planet, one side turns out more blue (and the other more red) than it really is. So it is not an artefact per se, but it’s because I’m not using a color camera that captures all channels at the same time. It can be ‘fixed’, but that would take me too much time.

    @3,1: the limb is darker because from the earth we stand pretty much with the sun at our backs staring at Jupiter, and at the edges the light doesn’t get reflected as well as at the center . If you look closely you can see that one side is actually darker than the other, that is how you can figure out we are not exactly at opposition (when the Sun, Earth, and Jupiter are in one line. That will take a couple more months). Notice that the shadow of Europa is also not visible on Jupiter, it falls just to the right of Jupiter. At opposition, from our point of view you will see the shadow really close to the moon itself. And/or what (8) says.
    @3,2: the flashing comes from differences in seeing conditions during recording. All the frames were processed the same, but the seeing was not constant that night (it never is), meaning that sometimes the recordings are a bit sharper than at other times, and the light of Europa is a bit closer together making it brighter. You can actually see it change color, because sometimes one of the color channels was a bit worse or better than average.

    There are ways to fix things like this, and perhaps I’ll make a new version one time. But on the other hand it’s also nice to answer these questions ūüėČ

    Oh, my name isn’t Henk, it’s Emil.

  10. Sam

    Instead of the evening, I would recommend waking up early and looking at it. The seeing is really poor (seeing is the quality of the image in a scope) when the object is low near the horizon, which it would be in the evening. However, if you get up at say 5am, you should be able to see it more or less overhead. If you have a decent powered scope (100-200X magnification), Jupiter should be SPECTACULAR, plus seeing some or all of the Galilean moons is really easy. Oregon has had unusually clear weather over the past couple of weeks and the views have been really good. An added bonus of waking up early is that Orion is right up there as well and every day is a good day to see M42.

  11. Pete Jackson

    @1Brad: The deep blue color is visible only on the left side of Jupiter in this picture. This is the east side as we see it in the sky, since we are seeing a non-inverted view of Jupiter (the red spot is at about -22 degrees south latitude). The video was made on Sept 2, which is 57 days before Jupiter reaches opposition on Oct 29. So, we are seeing Jupiter in a ‘gibbous’ phase where we are looking at the true illuminated limb of Jupiter on the right side. On the left side, the true limb is in darkness, and what we see is the terminator, defined by the places on Jupiter undergoing sunrise. Here, a lot of the sun’s light is scattered near Jupiter’s visible surface and we see the scattered light as blue, as we do in the Earth’s atmosphere.

    It would be interesting to see another video, exactly 57 days after opposition, that is around Dec 24, to see the blue color now on the right side. And any differences might signify if we can tell any difference between the terminator after a night’s cooling (as we have here) and after a day’s warming (as we will have on Dec 24).

  12. That is probably the coolest Jupiter image I’ve seen. I’ll be out tonight showing it too the neighbors, but it won’t be as cool as that image.

  13. Silvermoonstone

    this would be the coolest screen saver ever….

  14. Messier Tidy Upper

    By Jove that’s good! :-)

    Congratulations and thanks for this Emil Kraaikamp. :-)

    @7. QuietDesperation :

    Why does Europa seem to flash as it orbits?
    It’s an emergency beacon! Don’t just sit there! GET HELP!!1!!2!

    It’s not an emergency beacn but a warning one saying :


  15. Autumn

    I remember pointing my little ‘scope at Jupiter, expecting something kind of indistinct and small. Instead, even with a small ‘scope, I could clearly see the Galilean moons, and even the largest cloud bands.
    Awesome stuff.

  16. Messier Tidy Upper

    @10. Sam : “An added bonus of waking up early is that Orion is right up there as well and every day is a good day to see M42.”

    I would’ve thought every *night* was better for that, Sam? ūüėČ

    (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

    BTW. Folks some of the other videos on the HenkMannetje Youtube channel are pretty jaw-droppingly superluminous (beyond merely brilliant) too. :-)

  17. CR

    Cool… I want my own big Jupiter Ball to roll around against a black curtain and make videos! (Wait, what? That was REAL?!)

    OK, just kidding, I know it was real. But what a unique way (to my experience, at least) of presenting that Jovian giant. Very enjoyable!

  18. James Lapp

    Jupiter is gorgeous tonight. I watched from 10:00pm to 1:00am with the naked eye. Since I don’t know much about our skys or planets I thought at first it was Venus. It was really bright in the Eastern sky. To my poor eyes it looked as though there were spikes sticking out from it. I’m in Las Vegas and my binoculars are in Florida. Wish I were there!

  19. Infinite123Lifer

    Just the contemplation of such celestial events are some of my favorite Present Moments.

  20. SkyGazer

    “Amateur” is a honorary title and well deserved!
    Great animation.
    The 3D efeect is indeed very beautiful.

  21. Jupiter was the first thing I saw when my dad took me to Wheaton College’s(Norton,MA) observatory 40 years ago and I’ve been fascinated by the Planet ever since. It was bright in the sky before sunrise this morning.

  22. Joseph G

    They see me rollin’
    They hatin’
    Scopin’ my moons gravitatin’

  23. Joseph G

    @number 9 Emil K: Congrats on the awesome work! I don’t think I’ve ever seen a celestial body image or video that made it look so round. So often you can almost believe you’re looking at a disc, but not here!

  24. Mephane

    Hah! Just yesterday I saw it, didn’t know it was Jupiter and just thought “man that’s a bright star over there”. The thing is, it was one of those nights where the fog and light pollution here sometimes hide all but the brightest stars, but this one was brighter still.

  25. alfaniner

    Since you have here several pictures of Jupiter from slightly different angles, it should be easy to make an anaglyph (colored glasses) 3D version of it.

    So easy that I think I might do it myself.

  26. Somebody needs to make this into a live wallpaper for Android. Jupiter rolls as you swipe across home screens.


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