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Monday, 31 December, 2001, 18:47 GMT
Giant Jupiter heralds new year
Looking south, Jupiter will appear almost overhead
The giant planet Jupiter will be at its brightest this New Year, shining so brightly in the northern hemisphere's skies that it could even be mistaken for an aircraft.

The brightness stems from the fact that, seen from Earth, the planet will be directly opposite the Sun, an event known as an opposition.

And since Jupiter is currently relatively close to the Earth, the brightness will be all the more apparent.

Looking south from the northern hemisphere, the solar system's giant will be almost overhead and will be the brightest thing in the night sky apart from the moon.

Shrinking spot

Viewed from the UK, it will be highest in the sky a few minutes after midnight.

It rises at 1552 GMT on Monday and sets at 0821 GMT on Tuesday.

The planet's disc will appear in the constellation Gemini, above and to the left of Orion, the hunter.

It will appear to be a 40th of the diameter of the moon, which will be almost full.

A telescope view should show Jupiter's famous red spot storm system and the four brightest Jovian moons, Io, Ganymede, Europa and Callisto.

The great red spot has been slowly shrinking over the decades, from around three times the diameter of the Earth towards the end of the 19th century to around half that size now.

See also:

06 Oct 01 | Sci/Tech
'Hot breath' of Jupiter's moon
23 Aug 01 | Sci/Tech
Galileo sends new Jupiter moon views
26 Jul 01 | Sci/Tech
Chilly moon's icy secrets
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