Photographing the moons of Jupiter

April 7th, 2017, the planet Jupiter, Earth and the sun where in a straight line (astronomers say Jupiter reached opposition then). This is the perfect time to observe Jupiter in the night sky because it’s closest at Earth and in its full phase.

Jupiter at opposition
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

I had a look from my apartment in Amsterdam a few days later, on a clear evening. Like all planets, Jupiter looks just like a star, but it’s easy to spot because it’s the brightest object in the sky (except for our moon when it’s out).

Jupiter close to our full moon
Jupiter close to our full moon as seen from my apartment in Amsterdam (April 10, 2017).

Jupiter’s moons

With a pair of binoculars, and a steady hand, you can even see Jupiter’s own moons: Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto. To figure out the position of each moon at a given time, you can use the helpful tool Find Jupiter’s Moons from the Sky and Telescope website.

Catching them on camera

I decided to see if I could photograph the tiny moons using my simple Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX220 compact camera.

First I photographed Jupiter a number of times by holding my camera in front of my 30-year old Hanimex binoculars (10 x 50). These binoculars have a 10x magnification and 50 mm diameter lenses. On my best picture below, you can just make out three of the four moons.

Three of Jupiter's four moons
Three of Jupiter’s four moon, photographed with my camera in front of my binoculars with 10x magnification (Amsterdam, 9 April 2017).

The next day I photographed Jupiter with just my compact camera on a tripod, zoomed in to the max (10x optical + 10x digital = 20x magnification). This produced the slightly better picture below.

All four of Jupiter's moons
All four of Jupiter’s moons, photographed with my camera on 20x magnification (Amsterdam, 10 April 2017).

It’s cool to see that you can catch such tiny objects in the night sky on camera with relative simple tools (e.g. no telescope or a single-lens reflex camera).

If you want to have a look at Jupiter and its moons yourself, the planet is clearly visible in the night sky until about September 2017.

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