Jupiter, acting all superior

By Phil Plait | May 6, 2012 7:00 am

This is a cool picture:

What you’re seeing is from the NASA/ESA satellite Solar and Heliospheric Observatory, or SOHO. It stares at the Sun all the time, monitoring its activity. This image, from May 3, 2012 is from the LASCO C3, one of the cameras on board. It has a little metal paddle (called an occulter) to block the ferocious light of the Sun; that’s the black bar and circle. The white outline is the position of the Sun and its size in the image.

You can see an emerging coronal mass ejection on the left: that’s the bulb-shaped thingy. It’s actually an incredibly violent expulsion of a billion tons of subatomic particles hurled away at high speed due to the explosive discharge of the Sun’s magnetic field… but that’s not why I posted this picture.

You can also see streamers coming from the Sun; those are places where particles flow freely into space from the Sun. Basically, the magnetic field of the Sun trails into space in those locations, allowing the wind to escape. But that’s not why I’m showing you this picture, either.

Look on the left. See that weird dot with the horizontal line through it? That’s Jupiter! The line is not real; it’s where the camera got overexposed by the planet (digital detectors — like your phone camera — convert photons of light into electrons, and if a source is too bright, the electrons overflow the pixels like water from a bucket. The way the camera works, the electrons flow along the horizontal grid of pixels, creating these lines. This is called "blooming").

Jupiter has been gracing our sky for months, but has been getting further west every night, closing the apparent distance between it and the Sun. It’s on the opposite side of the Sun from us, at a distance of almost 900 million kilometers (550 million miles). When two objects get close in the sky, it’s called a conjunction. When it’s a planet on the far side of the Sun, it’s called superior conjunction. Just so’s you know.

Anyway, I just think this is neat. Jupiter is roughly one-billionth as bright as the Sun, yet there it is in the picture! And even though SOHO is designed to look at the Sun, Jupiter is so bright it’s overexposed. Imagine if the spacecraft moved a bit and the Sun were to peek out from behind the occulter… which can happen. SOHO goes into "safe mode" when that happens, shutting down systems that might get damaged. Every astronomical satellite has contingency plans like that, since it’s hard to send a repair service to most of ‘em. Generally it’s fixable by sending software commands to the spacecraft once the underlying problem has been ascertained.

If you want, SOHO has images online that are updated constantly. Go see what the Sun is doing now! Over the next few days Jupiter will get closer to the Sun, then pass very close to or even behind the disk. LASCO 2, another camera on SOHO that has a smaller field of view but a bit more resolution, should show the moons too when Jupiter moves into its field. I’ll post again when that happens. That’ll be even neater.

Image credit: NASA/ESA/SOHO

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Pretty pictures
MORE ABOUT: CMEs, Jupiter, SOHO

Comments (20)

  1. By Jove, I never knew the Jovian rings were that prominent! Oh wait .. ;-)

    Congrats and thanks to all the SOHO team(s) over the years that’s one venerable, unheralded yet wonderful space observatory you folks have run for so long. Cheers! :-)

    Jupiter is roughly one-billionth as bright as the Sun

    Hmmm… At what wavelength? Jove does, after all, radiate quite a bit of infrared and radio doesn’t it? ;-)

    Also if mighty Jupiter is one-billionth as bright as our Sun how faint vs Helios is Earth then or Saturn, Mars, Mercury or Pluto?

  2. Jove might be acting all superior
    But he’s still by far outshone!
    There’s just no accounting for,
    that o’erwhelming brilliance
    Of our Sun!

    Aparent magnitude minus twenty-seven
    Now that’s hard to be outdone
    For which we should be grateful,
    As our climate then, would make our population – none! ;-)

  3. Jupe is doing what he does best… being the bigshot. ;-) weird for me that Jupiter alwas seems male and Saturn–even though named after a “male” god–always seems female. And no.. I have no preference of one over the other when it comes to staring at.. both are just sooooooooooooooo Different than what we have here on Earth. :D

  4. Andrés

    Does this image tell us anything about the relative sizes of Jupiter and the Sun, or are they at very different distances from SOHO?

    Thanks!

  5. yelmer

    jupiter. always being big.

  6. Messier Tidy Upper

    @ ^ Andrés :

    Very different distances certainly. Jupiter is five times further away from our Daytime Star than Earth is whilst SOHO is located at the L1 (I think?) point which is in front of our planet in direct line with our Sun – from possibly unreliable memory.

    PS. Link to the SOHO wiki-page which I expect has its location and /or an external link to the official SOHO website is in my name for my comment currently #1 2012 May the sixth at 08.58 hours.

  7. Tim

    Where did you make that up from, its Venus… and we’ve seen both mercury and venus on Soho before. type in the dates 2005-03-24 to 2005-04-29. They’ve shut it off for a different cause, we’ve seen x class flares before on SOHO, so your theory doesn’t hold water. And we would never see JUPITER EVER THAT CLOSE TO THE SUN!

  8. Tim (7): Um, what? Go outside at sunset and look up to the west. That bright light is Venus, and its currently 35+ degrees from the Sun, way outside SOHO’s field of view. Jupiter is right next to the Sun. Go to any planetarium software to see that.

    Why would you think we’d never see Jupiter that close to the Sun? Of course we do, we do every single year (well, every 13 months or so).

  9. @Tim(7):
    This *is* Jupiter. We’ll see Mercury in the LASCO C3 images SIX TIMES this year alone! Venus will appear in June. See here for the full listings: http://sungrazer.nrl.navy.mil/index.php?p=transits/transits

  10. @Tim #7

    You do realize that since Jupiter is farther out from the Sun, we are able to see it in positions such as those posted above? Seriously, I don’t think professional astronomers are gonna be so wrong as you seem to imply.

  11. Simone

    Why SOHO is not update? Stoped in 05/03. Tks

  12. amphiox

    Tim, so long as the satellite is looking more or less along the plane of the ecliptic, it will see Jupiter (and possibly any other planet) when it orbits around the far side of the sun.

  13. Adam

    Why is the occulter so much larger than the Sun itself? Doesn’t that obscure a significant portion of the corona?

  14. Sam42

    Will Jupiter appear much brighter than this when it’s at its closest point to Earth? Any idea when that’ll be, anyone?

  15. Kevin Anthoney

    Sam42@14

    6 months time (+ a little bit) when the Earth’s moved round to the other side of the sun. The little bit is because in that six months, Jupiter will have moved a nad or so further round the sun.

  16. Larry

    Ha, Jupiter is photo bombing the Sun.

  17. carbonUnit

    Hard to believe that Venus, so high in the evening sky now, will be transiting the Sun on June 5th or 6th, depending on where you live. (The next transit after that will be in 2117.)

    Speaking of transits and 2×17, I hadn’t realized that the Moon will be making a transit of the Sun (aka solar eclipse) on Aug. 21, 2017. The path of totality cuts right across the US, from Oregon to South Carolina. I can safely say I will probably be in Kentucky or Tennessee that day. (Or the nearest location along the path with a cloud-free weather forecast.) NASA has a nice page with the path overlaid on Google Maps at

    http://eclipse.gsfc.nasa.gov/SEgoogle/SEgoogle2001/SE2017Aug21Tgoogle.html

    Coming back to this BA entry, I look forward to seeing something like the SOHO image with my own eyes! :)

  18. carbonUnit

    [ignore me – tried to repost and forgot to remove http! I don’t know how to delete… ]

  19. carbonUnit

    [Well, foo! My comment is hung up in moderation because I posted a URL. OK, deHTTPenating… Are there instructions on deleting posts and formatting around somewhere? Do BBS code or HTML tags work?]

    Hard to believe that Venus, so high in the evening sky now, will be transiting the Sun on June 5th or 6th, depending on where you live. (The next transit after that will be in 2117.)

    Speaking of transits and 2×17, I hadn’t realized that the Moon will be making a transit of the Sun (aka solar eclipse) on Aug. 21, 2017. The path of totality cuts right across the US, from Oregon to South Carolina. I can safely say I will probably be in Kentucky or Tennessee that day. (Or the nearest location along the path with a cloud-free weather forecast.) NASA has a nice page with the path overlaid on Google Maps at

    eclipse.gsfc.nasa.gov/SEgoogle/SEgoogle2001/SE2017Aug21Tgoogle.html

    Coming back to this BA entry, I look forward to seeing something like the SOHO image with my own eyes! :)

  20. Gary Ansorge

    Hav you noticed, when some people make an error, they fess up right away(Oops, I made a mistook). When others do it, you never hear from them again(paging mister Tim…).On the other hand, maybe he was being satirical…

    Great photos. Thanks, Phil.

    Gary 7

NEW ON DISCOVER
OPEN
CITIZEN SCIENCE
ADVERTISEMENT

Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!

ADVERTISEMENT

See More

ADVERTISEMENT
Collapse bottom bar
+

Login to your Account

X
E-mail address:
Password:
Remember me
Forgot your password?
No problem. Click here to have it e-mailed to you.

Not Registered Yet?

Register now for FREE. Registration only takes a few minutes to complete. Register now »