Jupiter, the gaseous giant

Jupiter is at its brightest in the night sky after reaching opposition Monday night. (NASA / December 3, 2012)

Earth passed between the sun and Jupiter on Sunday night, making the gaseous giant appear its largest and brightest in just over a year. Three other planets are meanwhile lining up for a show in the early mornings.

Jupiter reached what is known as opposition, when it is opposite the sun in our sky. 

That is making it near its maximum brightness, much brighter than most stars and about as bright as the International Space Station on a good flyover, according to AstronomyNow.com. Not only that, but Jupiter is visible well above the horizon for about 11 hours each night, and several of its moons are visible with binoculars as well, according to the website.

Jupiter reaches opposition once about every 13 months, according to EarthSky.org. It moves across the sky throughout the night, in the southern sky around midnight, and is easily spotted as the brightest star in the sky.

Some other planets are shining at some points in the night, too. Mercury, Venus and Saturn appear in a line in the southeast sky shortly before dawn on Monday and Tuesday mornings. In about a week, the crescent moon will pass by them in the pre-dawn hours Dec. 10-11, according to EarthSky. Dawn is about 7:10 a.m. this time of year.

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