Jupiter’s Changing Elevation

If you are a planetary astrophotographer in the northern hemisphere, you have probably been frustrated with your attempts to acquire nicely detailed images of Jupiter in the last couple of years. Even if you obtained perfect telescope collimation, allowed your scope to reach thermal equilibrium, achieved critical focus, imaged during the best seeing conditions, etc., chances are you still did not get the results you hoped for.

A Turning Point is Here!

Don’t give up though- things should start improving for you starting this year. It just so happens that Jupiter reached its lowest declination in the sky in 2008. This was great for southern hemisphere astrophotographers (lots of excellent photos coming out of Australia) but not for those in the northern hemisphere.

Jupiter’s elevation is based on a 12-year cycle where it goes from a maximum northern declination to a maximum southern declination. The graph below demonstrates the changes in declination over time.

Click image to enlarge.

Credit: Radio Jove Project Team
Credit: Radio Jove Project Team

According to the graph, things were all good in 2002 for the northern hemisphere since Jupiter was at its maximum northern declination. This meant that Jupiter’s position was optimal for astrophotography (when it reached the zenith) since it was at its greatest elevation angle.

How Much Better in 2009?

OK, so even though Jupiter will only be slightly higher in the sky this year, it will be interesting to note the differences in image quality at each stage as we head toward it’s maximum northern declination in 2013-2014. By that time you will have honed your skills in planetary astrophotography and will be ready to take advantage of Jupiter at its highest point. And of course you will probably need to have that new telescope and camera in place so you’ll be prepared to capture a masterpiece!

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  1. AstroPhotography Tonight

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  2. Jeff Turner

    Well my astro photo skills need lots of improving I think I will be good by then. I would hope by this time I finally have an observatory built. Interesting article, enjoyed reading it. Always something new to learn.

    J. Turner

  3. Would be a nice goal! Have an observatory in place and improve upon your imaging in time for Jupiters maximum elevation! Ray

  4. I have a question : so, Jupiter shifts from circa -23° to +23° of elevation in about 6 years ( while the Sun’s elevation shifts similarly every 6 months). Fine. These are undeniable, empirically-observable facts.

    But how does the Copernican model of our solar system account for this? (Keep in mind that the inclination of Jupiter’s orbit in relation to our celestial plane / ecliptic is estimated to be only about 1.3°).

    For instance: in the three-year period between December 24, 1998 to December 24, 2001, Jupiter went from decl. -4° to decl. 22.5°. Obviously, this cannot be accounted for by Earth’s alleged tilt / obliquity, since on both of those Christmas eves (December 24, 1998 and December 24, 2001) Earth would have been EQUALLY tilted. So why did this 26.5° shift occur over said three-year period?

    Thanks for a kind explanation – it would be very much appreciated.

    Best regards

    Simon Shack

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