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updated 1/20/2013 9:50:19 PM ET 2013-01-21T02:50:19

Stargazers looking up as darkness falls on Monday will notice an eye catching pairing-off between two of the brightest objects in the nighttime sky, weather permitting. 

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The moon, appearing as a waxing gibbous phase, 78 percent illuminated, will appear to stand close below a very bright, non-twinkling, silvery "star." But it won't be a star that will be keeping the moon company on America's Inauguration Night, but the largest planet in our solar system: Jupiter.

Across much of the United States and southern Canada, this will be closest that the moon and Jupiter will appear relative to each other until the year 2026. On Monday night, the moon will be about of 248,700 miles (400,500 kilometers) from Earth, while Jupiter will be nearly 1,664 times farther out in space at a distance of 413.8 million miles (665.9 million km). 

During Monday's stargazing event, observers have the chance to see what astronomers call an appulse — a very close approach of the moon to Jupiter. An appulse is a phenomenon caused by perspective only. There is no close physical approach in space between the two objects involved.  Astronomers insist that appulses have no direct effect on the Earth. 

The moon, moving around the Earth in an easterly direction at roughly its own diameter each hour, will creep slowly toward and ultimately pass just below the giant planet. Jupiter, meanwhile, will be shining about three times brighter than the brightest star, Sirius, offering a commanding sight for stargazers despite its close proximity to the moon.

[ Amazing Stargazing Photos for January ]

Although it will be the moon that will be moving in Jupiter's general direction, the illusion will be that it is Jupiter that is moving, appearing to glide slowly along on a path taking it above the moon. A similar illusion occurs during a lunar eclipsewhen the dark shadow of Earth appears to be slowly creeping across the face of the moon. In reality it is the moon itself slowly creeping into the Earth's shadow. 

After their closest approach Monday, the moon will spend the balance of the night moving slowly away to the left (east), leaving Jupiter behind.  

The table accompanying this guide gives local times of Jupiter's closest approach to the moon's upper edge on the night of Jan. 21 for 20 major cities across the United States and Canada. Separation is given in terms of a fraction of an angular degree. The width of the moon is equal to one-half (0.50) of a degree. 

Examples: From Boston, closest approach between Jupiter and the moon is at 11 p.m. EST. Separation is 0.62 of a degree or one and a quarter times the apparent width of the moon from Jupiter to the moon’s upper edge. From Miami, closest approach is at 11:02 p.m. EST, the separation is listed as 0.33 of a degree or two-thirds of a moon's width separating Jupiter from the moon's upper edge.   

From Halifax, Nova Scotia, an asterisk indicates that the closest approach between Jupiter and the moon comes after midnight on Tuesday. 

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And here’s another interesting illusion: For many places in the United States and Canada, Jupiter will be separated from the moon's upper rim by at least a half-degree (0.50) — equal to the apparent width of the moon. And yet visually to the eye, Jupiter will appear to be much closer; in fact, seemingly impossible that the gap that separates Jupiter from the moon's edge would be large enough to accommodate an object that is equal to the size of the moon itself. 

[ How to Observe the Moon (Infographic) ]

Even from places like Boston, Montreal and Edmonton where the gap exceeds a half degree, Jupiter will appear much closer relative to the moon’s edge. Check it out for yourself.

If you own a small telescope, there are several stargazing opportunities to get a close look at Jupiter during Monday night's appearance.

According to Sky & Telescope magazine, Jupiter's Great Red Spot, a colossal storm bigger than the Earth, can be visible in amateur telescopes from 9 p.m. to 10:40 p.m. EST (6 p.m. to 7:40 p.m. PST/0100 to 0240 GMT). And Jupiter's icy moon Europa will cross in front of the planet, as seen from Earth, between 8:13 p.m. and 10:37 p.m. EST (5:13 p.m. and 7:37 p.m. PST/2213 and 2337 GMT). The best time for amateur astronomers to try and spot Europa's shadow on Jupiter via telescope will be between 10:22 p.m. and 12:46 a.m. EST (7:22 p.m. and 9:46 p.m. PST/0222 and 0546 GMT), the magazine's stargazing experts said.

"You'll also get an opportunity to attempt an unusual feat: spotting Jupiter in the late afternoon, before the Sun sets," said Tony Flanders, associate editor at Sky & Telescope magazine and host of Skyweek on PBS, in a statement. "First locate the moon medium-high in the east; then look a few moon-widths left or lower left of the Moon for Jupiter. It should be easy to spot with binoculars if the air is clear."

Lastly, if you are lucky to be situated across a broad swath of central South America including French Polynesia, Pitcairn and Galapagos Islands an even more spectacular event will take place, when the moon will hide or eclipse Jupiter (called an occultation).

But don't fret if you miss the moon's occultation of Jupiter Monday night. Another one will occur on March 17, according to Sky and Telescope.

Editor's note: If you snap an amazing photo of Jupiter and the moon, or any other night sky view, that you'd like to share for a possible story or image gallery, send photos, comments and your name and location to managing editor Tariq Malik at spacephotos@space.com.

Joe Rao serves as an instructor and guest lecturer at New York's Hayden Planetarium. He writes about astronomy for TheNew York Times and other publications, and he is also an on-camera meteorologist for News 12 Westchester, New York.

© 2013 Space.com. All rights reserved. More from Space.com.

Photos: Month in Space: January 2014

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  1. Southern stargazing

    Stars, galaxies and nebulas dot the skies over the European Southern Observatory's La Silla Paranal Observatory in Chile, in a picture released on Jan. 7. This image also shows three of the four movable units that feed light into the Very Large Telescope Interferometer, the world's most advanced optical instrument. Combining to form one larger telescope, they are greater than the sum of their parts: They reveal details that would otherwise be visible only through a telescope as large as the distance between them. (Y. Beletsky / ESO) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. A balloon's view

    Cameras captured the Grandville High School RoboDawgs' balloon floating through Earth's upper atmosphere during its ascent on Dec. 28, 2013. The Grandville RoboDawgs’ first winter balloon launch reached an estimated altitude of 130,000 feet, or about 25 miles, according to coaches Mike Evele and Doug Hepfer. It skyrocketed past the team’s previous 100,000-feet record set in June. The RoboDawgs started with just one robotics team in 1998, but they've grown to support more than 30 teams at public schools in Grandville, Mich. (Kyle Moroney / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Spacemen at work

    Russian cosmonauts Oleg Kotov, right, and Sergey Ryazanskiy perform maintenance on the International Space Station on Jan. 27. During the six-hour, eight-minute spacewalk, Kotov and Ryazanskiy completed the installation of a pair of high-fidelity cameras that experienced connectivity issues during a Dec. 27 spacewalk. The cosmonauts also retrieved scientific gear outside the station's Russian segment. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Special delivery

    The International Space Station's Canadian-built robotic arm moves toward Orbital Sciences Corp.'s Cygnus autonomous cargo craft as it approaches the station for a Jan. 12 delivery. The mountains below are the southwestern Alps. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Accidental art

    A piece of art? A time-lapse photo? A flickering light show? At first glance, this image looks nothing like the images we're used to seeing from the Hubble Space Telescope. But it's a genuine Hubble frame that was released on Jan. 27. Hubble's team suspects that the telescope's Fine Guidance System locked onto a bad guide star, potentially a double star or binary. This caused an error in the tracking system, resulting in a remarkable picture of brightly colored stellar streaks. The prominent red streaks are from stars in the globular cluster NGC 288. (NASA / ESA) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Supersonic test flight

    A camera looking back over Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo's fuselage shows the rocket burn with a Mojave Desert vista in the background during a test flight of the rocket plane on Jan. 10. Cameras were mounted on the exterior of SpaceShipTwo as well as its carrier airplane, WhiteKnightTwo, to monitor the rocket engine's performance. The test was aimed at setting the stage for honest-to-goodness flights into outer space later this year, and eventual commercial space tours.

    More about SpaceShipTwo on PhotoBlog (Virgin Galactic) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Red lagoon

    The VLT Survey Telescope at the European Southern Observatory's Paranal Observatory in Chile captured this richly detailed new image of the Lagoon Nebula, released on Jan. 22. This giant cloud of gas and dust is creating intensely bright young stars, and is home to young stellar clusters. This image is a tiny part of just one of 11 public surveys of the sky now in progress using ESO telescopes. (ESO/VPHAS team) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Fire on the mountain

    This image provided by NASA shows a satellite view of smoke from the Colby Fire, taken by the Multi-angle Imaging SpectroRadiometer aboard NASA's Terra spacecraft as it passed over Southern California on Jan. 16. The fire burned more than 1,863 acres and forced the evacuation of 3,700 people. (NASA via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Where stars are born

    An image captured by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope shows the Orion Nebula, an immense stellar nursery some 1,500 light-years away. This false-color infrared view, released on Jan. 15, spans about 40 light-years across the region. The brightest portion of the nebula is centered on Orion's young, massive, hot stars, known as the Trapezium Cluster. But Spitzer also can detect stars still in the process of formation, seen here in red hues. (NASA / JPL-Caltech) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Cygnus takes flight

    Orbital Sciences Corp.'s Antares rocket rises from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Va, on Jan. 9. The rocket sent Orbital's Cygnus cargo capsule on its first official resupply mission to the International Space Station. (Chris Perry / NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. A long, long time ago...

    This long-exposure picture from the Hubble Space Telescope, released Jan. 8, is the deepest image ever made of any cluster of galaxies. The cluster known as Abell 2744 appears in the foreground. It contains several hundred galaxies as they looked 3.5 billion years ago. Abell 2744 acts as a gravitational lens to warp space, brightening and magnifying images of nearly 3,000 distant background galaxies. The more distant galaxies appear as they did more than 12 billion years ago, not long after the Big Bang. (NASA / NASA via AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Frosty halo

    Sun dogs are bright spots that appear in the sky around the sun when light is refracted through ice crystals in the atmosphere. These sun dogs appeared on Jan. 5 amid brutally cold temperatures along Highway 83, north of Bismarck, N.D. The temperature was about 22 degrees below zero Fahrenheit, with a 50-below-zero wind chill.

    Slideshow: The Year in Space (Brian Peterson / The Bismarck Tribune via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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