NASA’s Juno probe spent years en route to the gas giant, and the main observation phase hasn’t gone completely smoothly. The probe is in a longer orbit of Jupiter, meaning it makes a close approach of the planet only once every 53 days. Still, the images we’re getting are really something. In a pair of recently released images, you can see an unprecedented amount of detail in Jupiter’s clouds, and they were both created by citizen scientists.
Juno arrived in orbit of the gas giant in summer 2016, some five years after launch. It began sending back stunning images and scientific data in early 2017. However, an engine error forced NASA to err on the side of caution and skip the maneuver that would have tightened Juno’s orbit. We’re waiting longer for new images, but the probe won’t be pounded by radiation as much and citizen scientists have more time to process the raw data.
The newly released images actually come from NASA’s citizen scientists. All the raw data from the JunoCam is posted on the Jet Propulsion Laboratory website for anyone to download and process into a final image. You can upload your creations, and NASA may choose to highlight the best ones as it has done here.
In the image on top, we see Jupiter from a latitude of 27.9 degrees south. The spacecraft was passing the planet at an altitude of 8,453 miles (13,604 kilometers). The original image data was captured by Juno on December 16th of last year with a resolution of 5.6 miles/pixel (9.1 kilometers/pixel). It offers an excellent view of the South Temperate Belt, the dark region on the far left. The image was processed by Kevin M. Gill.
In the second image above, citizen scientist Gerald Eichstädt has used data from the same December 16th close pass of Jupiter. The image was taken from a much greater distance — 64,899 miles (104,446 kilometers) from the planet’s cloud tops. It was taken from a latitude of 83.9 degrees south, putting the probe almost exactly over the south pole. The resolution is lower at just 43.6 miles/pixel (70.2 kilometers/pixel), but that’s plenty to see Jupiter’s intricate cloud patterns.
A high-resolution version of the top image is available below. You can also download JunoCam data there if you want to try your hand at processing images of Jupiter. You’ll have plenty of opportunities, too, as NASA expects Juno to operate in orbit of Jupiter for years to come. We can’t wait for more.
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