NASA's Juno mission may have fallen behind schedule, but that hasn't stopped artists and amateur astronomers from having a blast with the data. The Jupiter-orbiting spacecraft's citizen science camera just sent back its second batch of close-up images — and over the past few days, folks have been processing them to create some out-of-this-world artwork.
On Sunday, the Juno spacecraft reached perijove, the closest point in its 53.5-day orbit around Jupiter, for the third time since arriving earlier this winter. As the spacecraft's scientific instruments collected data on Jupiter's interior and its magnetic field, JunoCam was busy snapping images of cool cyclones and weird dark splotches that the public had selected through an online portal.
It's the most ambitious citizen science project NASA has ever spearheaded, according to the Planetary Science Institute's Candice Hansen, who's leading JunoCam team. "Initially, we thought we'd just carry out [Juno's] imaging experiment as if we were in a fishbowl — that we'd just do everything on the web where everyone can see it," Hansen told Gizmodo. "Eventually, it evolved into this more participatory thing that we have now."
Image: NASA / JPL / SwRI / MSSS / Gerald Eichstädt
There are a few different ways the public can get involved with JunoCam. Backyard telescope astronomers can snap photos of Jupiter and upload them to the JunoCam website's "planning" section. These images are used to create an ever-changing map of Jupiter's cloud tops, which serves as a basis for identifying and discussing interesting features.
Then, as Juno approaches each subsequent perijove, folks can vote on which features the camera ought to target. After targets have been selected and after the spacecraft has made its perijove flyby, raw images captured by JunoCam's red, green, blue and methane filters are uploaded to the website, where they can be downloaded and processed by anyone.
Image: NASA / JPL / SwRI / MSSS / Philip Terry Graham
During the most recent perijove on December 11, JunoCam had its sights set on one of Jupiter's "pearls", a series of gigantic, oval-shaped storms in the gas giant's southern hemisphere; a "weird dark spot", also in the southern hemisphere; and a blip in the northern hemisphere that looks a bit like a Starfleet insignia if you squint really hard.
Already, folks around the world have downloaded the raw images and gone to town in Photoshop to make some beautifully trippy, Jovian artwork.
Some JunoCam participants are also creating valuable products for the mission team, including high-quality annotations of Jupiter's tempestuous and ever-changing weather systems. Hansen hopes that this trend will continue as the mission revs up.
"The camera is on Juno to do outreach, but there's no reason we can't learn about Jupiter by looking at the pictures," she said. "Our vision, now, is that all of the things an imaging team would do around a table at a conference, we can do on the web."
Image: Pedro Henrique Moura
Image: Leonardo Cisija
Image: Torsten Edelmann
Image: NASA/P. Miles/D. Peach