Jupiter, one of the three gas giants in our solar system, is a lovely sight to look at in our evening skies. It always shines brightly but there are times where it is brighter than normal.

These are instances where the gas giant is closer to Earth, although what ‘close’ indicates changes interestingly with time. 

Let’s find out how and why this happens. 

The Distance of Jupiter Changes Over Time 

Jupiter is 365 million miles away when it is closest to Earth and 601 million miles away at its furthest.

Like all the other planets, Jupiter has an elliptical orbit around the Sun. This means that the distance between it and the Sun, and us, keeps changing depending on where we are in our respective orbits. At times when Jupiter is behind the Sun (where Jupiter, the Sun, and Earth align), it moves as far as 601 million miles away

As both planets continue to move in their respective orbits, Jupiter’s closest approach to Earth occurs when both planets are in line with the sun on the same side of our star. At this time, Earth is between Jupiter and the Sun with Jupiter on the Sun’s opposite side, which is why this time is known as opposition. 

Oppositions of Jupiter occurs every 13 months (399 days to be exact). Each time, Jupiter is as close as 365 million miles from Earth, shining the brightest and largest in our skies.

Diagram of Jupiter's closest and furthest distances from Earth
Earth (blue) and Jupiter (yellow) at their closest and furthest

Now you can see why there is no single answer to explain how far away the massive planet Jupiter is. As its position keeps varying, so does its distance. Instead, let’s understand Jupiter’s closest, farthest, and average distance with respect to Earth. 

Jupiter’s Closest Approach to Earth

Jupiter is closest to Earth at its inferior conjunction when the gas giant and Earth are in a line on the same side of the Sun. The smallest that this distance can be is 365 million miles (587 million km). The planets’ orbits make this happen every 13 months. 

The dates and distances for recent and future inferior conjunctions are given below: 

July 14, 2020384 million miles (619 million km)Sagittarius
August 19, 2021372 million miles (599 million km)Capricornus
September 26, 2022367 million miles (590 million km)Pisces
November 03, 2023369 million miles (595 million km)Aries
December 07, 2024380 million miles (611 million km)Taurus
January 10, 2026393 million miles (632 million km)Gemini
February 10, 2027405 million miles (652 million km)Leo
March 12, 2028412 million miles (664 million km)Leo
April 11, 2029413 million miles (665 million km)Virgo
May 13, 2030408 million miles (656 million km)Libra

The fact that both Earth and Jupiter orbit in elliptical orbits indicates that there will be changes in them over time. The closest approach of Jupiter with Earth was in 2010 when it was 75 million miles closer than previous oppositions. 

Jupiter’s Furthest Distance From Earth

Jupiter is furthest from Earth at solar conjunctions. The maximum distance that this can be is 601 million miles (961 million km). The dates and distances for recent and future inferior conjunctions are given below: 

January 28, 2021564 million miles (908 million km)Capricornus
March 05, 2022554 million miles (893 million km)Aquarius
April 11, 2023553 million miles (890 million km)Pisces
May 18, 2024560 million miles (902 million km)Taurus
June 24, 2025572 million miles (921 million km)Gemini
July 29, 2026585 million miles (942 million km)Cancer
August 31, 2027595 million miles (958 million km)Leo
September 30, 2028599 million miles (964 million km)Virgo
October 30, 2029596 million miles (960 million km)Virgo
November 30, 2030588 million miles (946 million km)Ophiuchus

During solar conjunctions, Jupiter will be on the other side of the Sun and is impossible to observe under the Sun’s glare. This is also the time that Jupiter is smallest and faintest. 

The Average Distance of Jupiter

The closest and furthest distances of Jupiter from Earth happen every 13 months. The average distance of Jupiter from Earth hovers around 385 million miles (611 million km). 

Now, it is important to note that these figures are not set in stone, but are useful approximations to remember. 

How Long Does it Take to Get to Jupiter?

So far, in this article, we have learned the distance from Earth to Jupiter at two important points in its orbit. We can now proceed to understand how long it takes to get to the gas giant. 

There are two ways to go about this. First, we will look at the time light takes to reach Jupiter. 

Next, we will board a spaceship (imaginatively, of course) and see how long it’ll take us to travel to the fifth planet in our solar system (we cannot travel at the speed of light, so this should be an interesting analysis). 

Let’s go! 

How Long Does Light Take to Travel from Jupiter to Earth?

Light travels the fastest of all known objects because it has no mass. Its speed is a whopping 186,282 miles per second. At this rate, let’s take a look at the shortest, longest, and the average time for light to travel between the two planets: 

Shortest = 365 million miles (587 million km) = 1,962 seconds = 32 minutes and 07 seconds.

Average = 385 million miles (611 million km) =  2,070 seconds = 34 minutes and 05 seconds.

Furthest = 601 million miles (961 million km) = 3,231 seconds = 54 minutes and 25 seconds. 

At its average distance of 385 million miles, light takes 32 minutes and 07 seconds to reach Earth from Jupiter. As the planets orbit the Sun, this time varies between 32 minutes 07 seconds, and 54 minutes 25 seconds. 

This also means that when you look at Jupiter’s moons in the night sky, you are looking at where they were at least 32 minutes 07 seconds ago!

These calculations are if we could travel at the speed of light, which, unfortunately, we cannot. So let’s look at how long it would take us humans to get to Jupiter. 

How Long Does it Take a Spaceship to Travel to Jupiter? 

The short answer is two to six years, depending on the route followed and the speed.

Until now, we have been focused on understanding how Jupiter’s and Earth’s orbits work. In order to get to Jupiter, considering the speed of our spaceship and the route it takes is also very important. Let’s take a look at past missions to see how long they took: 

MissionLaunch DateTravel Time (in days)
Pioneer 10March 03, 1972640
Pioneer 11April 05, 1973606
Voyager 1September 05, 1977546
Voyager 2August 20, 1977688
GalileoOctober 18, 19892,242
JunoAugust 05, 20111,795

This meant that their path was not so straightforward, their speed was slower so that when they reached Jupiter, they could be captured by its gravitational field (and not fly away). 

So, depending on whether you want to skim by Jupiter or stick around, it will take you anywhere between 546 days to 2,242 days. The shortest time a spacecraft has taken to get to Jupiter from Earth is 546 days or 17.9 months. The longest journey took 2,242 days or 6.1 years. 

With this, we have covered planet Jupiter end to end: from understanding its orbit and the time we will take to reach it if we were to hop on a spaceship. Next time you observe the gas giant, I am sure these thoughts will make your experience more fulfilling!