The Best Time to Photograph Jupiter is January 5th

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The biggest planet on the block makes its most visible appearance of the year on January 5, marking the first major astronomical event of 2014. Jupiter will be rising opposite to the setting Sun, with Earth in between. This is referred to as “Opposition.” The Sun will be behind us, and Jupiter in front of us, so the Sun will be shining fully on the face of Jupiter, lighting her up and creating perfect conditions for viewing and shooting.

Adding to the experience, Earth and Jupiter will be at their closest distance from one another, more so than at any other time in more than a year. This combination of events has the astronomy world buzzing over the prospects of breath-taking views, and astrophotographers should be abuzz as well.

For viewing purposes, a medium-sized telescope will allow you to see some of the dark details on the surface, and you may even be able to see one or both of the bright white polar ice caps. Larger scopes and colored filters will bring out better detail on Jupiter’s cloud bands and polar regions.

Technological advances in the past few years make this awesome Opposition accessible to more people than ever. Basic telescopes now come with automatic tracking and alignment systems, and astrophotography (which used to be reserved for elite amateurs and professionals) is easier than ever, without a lot of experience required to capture great images.

For more nuts-and-bolts information on the astrophotography workflow, check out this “How I Got the Shot” article that explains how photographer David Kingham captured his Snowy Range Perseids image, which includes a video that explains his critically important post-production techniques in Photoshop. You should also read The Epic Battle Between Choosing Star Trails Over Star Points, by Gabriel Biderman. Also of interest is NASA’s page on Jupiter, which includes updates on recent missions, an image gallery, and ten things you need to know about the fifth planet.