Juno (spacecraft)

Citizen scientists are providing stunning new views of Jupiter

Jupiter's south pole
WAY DOWN UNDER A rare look at Jupiter’s south pole reveals storms and cyclones, seen in this enhanced-color image edited by citizen scientist Roman Tkachenko using data from NASA’s JunoCam. The raw image was taken February 2, 2017, when Juno swooped to about 102,100 kilometers above the planet’s clouds during a fourth flyby.

Stormy, with a good chance of cyclones. That’s the forecast for Jupiter’s south pole — a region never seen before but quickly coming into focus with the help of citizen scientists.

Music producer Roman Tkachenko’s edited image of Jupiter’s nether regions (featured above) is a perfect example. His enhancements make the swirling cyclones and white oval storms really pop compared with the raw image, highlighting features at the pole that we otherwise may have missed.

“Jupiter’s poles don’t look anything like what the team thought they would,” says Southwest Research Institute planetary scientist Scott Bolton. He heads the Juno mission, which is probing the mysteries of Jupiter with a spacecraft that is swooping around the planet for 20 months. No one, he says, was expecting so many cyclones and storms.

Such unprecedented views come thanks to JunoCam, a camera on the Juno spacecraft that is not necessarily essential to meet the science goals of the mission. Bolton’s team added it to provide a rare glimpse of Jupiter’s poles and close-ups of everything in between, and give space enthusiasts an opportunity to play a part in exploring the gaseous planet.

And they are.

Citizen scientists join discussions about which Jovian features the camera will snap pics of, and vote on their favorite targets — those with most votes are photographed. These individuals download raw images and then upload edited versions. “We want the public to jump right in and be our partners in this mission,” Bolton says. “We want everyone to experience what it is like to discover something no one else has seen before.”

MOON SHOT The shadow of the Jovian moon Ganymede sweeps across Jupiter in this gif made with JunoCam images taken during Juno’s fourth flyby.

Pretty much all of what we are learning about the structures and dynamics of Jupiter’s clouds is coming from public-edited images, says planetary scientist and JunoCam wrangler Candice Hansen. The team is processing a few images itself but with no image processing staff, the researchers are relying on the work of citizen scientists.

Thanks to them, raw data is being turned into beautiful and scientifically important images and movies, ones that track how…