Professional astronomers and citizen scientists alike have been attending the "New views of Jupiter" workshop organized by the Royal Astronomical Society this week. The discussion is centered around the work currently being carried out by NASA’s Juno mission as well as future approaches to study the giant planet. The science that we are getting back from Juno is incredibly important, its images are changing our whole approach to deep space astrophotography.
If the still images weren’t enough already, two citizen scientists, Gerald Eichstädt and Seán Doran, have managed to highlight Jupiter's swirling features and deliver a beautiful animated clip of its moving clouds.
To do this, Eichstädt used two images taken by the JunoCam and reprojected them so they looked like they were taken from the same place, which allowed for a direct comparison that showed the features' subtle motion. He then extrapolated the movement of the pixels, creating an animation that reveals how clouds move in the Jovian atmosphere.
“This animation represents a ‘feasibility test’," Eichstädt said in a statement. "Building on this initial work, we can add in more variables that will give us a more detailed description and physical understanding of Jupiter’s atmosphere.”
Doran collaborated with Eichstädt to produce the amazing new composite image of the gas giant above. The images from JunoCam often only capture part of the planet. The charge-coupled device (CCD) used to snap the photos is also affected by the complex space environment, so building up such a picture is no easy task. Eichstädt rendered four images that had Jupiter roughly in the same angle and then Doran blended them in one seamless mosaic of the whole planet.
“It’s something of a labour of love that requires plenty of patience,” Doran explained. “Energetic particles impact the CCD and produce bright specks. Once I’d finished the processing, I needed to go through and repair a couple hundred of these bright pixels.”
These images and animations are works of art, but they are also extremely helpful to professional astronomers. The animation shows details of the rapid changes in the atmospheric properties, which the professional community may not have the resources to model, and the info gained from these images plays a role in future observation strategies.
“[W]e’ve seen some tremendous new science emerging from this collaboration, and breath-taking imagery of Jupiter’s complex atmosphere that would not have been possible without the talented army of citizen scientists that have been working alongside the JunoCam team every step of the way,” workshop co-organiser Leigh Fletcher, from the University of Leicester, stated.
Juno has two more close passes of Jupiter scheduled before the end of the primary mission and a review of a possible extension.