Arts and Entertainment

Battle Point Astronomical Association plans party for Jupiter

Montage of Jupiter and the Galilean satellites, Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto. - Courtesy photo
Montage of Jupiter and the Galilean satellites, Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto.
— image credit: Courtesy photo

For stargazers and solar system admirers, right now is the best time to view the planet Jupiter in the night sky.

Though you wouldn’t think it’d be that difficult, given that it’s the largest planet in the solar system, giant red spot and all, it’s best viewed currently slowly receding from opposition — a term meaning that the planet is directly opposite from the sun as seen on Earth.

“We just had opposition with Jupiter,” Battle Point Astronomer Paul Below noted of the July 9 occurrence. “So when the sun sets, Jupiter rises and when Jupiter rises the sun sets ... plus any star party, or any time people go outside and look to the South right now, they’ll be able to see Jupiter.”

With that thought in mind, Below and crew at the Battle Point Astronomical Association have created their July star party and planetarium show around the theme of the fifth rock from the sun and its 16 recognized moons.

As usual, if the sky is clear, BPAA astronomers will get out their telescopes and take a look at the real thing as darkness falls. But even if the sky isn’t clear — which is decidedly all-too-often for these Northwest astronomers — BPAA will still be able to virtually look into the night sky by employing its planetarium software for a tour of the interstellar giant.

“We can always look at the stars, even when it’s cloudy,” Koehler said.

Sounds like idealistic optimism, but she’s actually fairly right on. Planetariums are an impressive feat of technology.

Inside the BPAA’s observatory at Battle Point Park, a dome-shaped movie screen is suspended above a room that holds about 30 people. In the middle of the room is a projector with a dome-shaped lens that casts a virtual image of the stars in the night sky which BPAA astronomers can then manipulate by both time and distance. They can navigate the night sky with the touch of a button. Not only can they still look at the stars when the sky is cloudy, they can also digitally control the heavens — zooming in on Jupiter and its moons, moving forward or backward by any measure of time to visualize trajectory and orbit, even zipping out of our entire solar system to peer in on galaxies that only the Hubble Space Telescope has witnessed.

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