A few days ago, NASA announced that the Juno spacecraft orbiting Jupiter has gone into safe mode. Safe mode in space often means that something is not quite right with a space prob. Nevertheless, the NASA team is confident that the science Juno was designed to explore will continue. In addition to concerns about the “plumbing” of its engine, the biggest setback for Juno is the inability to perform a burn that would reduce the orbit around Jupiter from 53.4 days to 14 days. What is the end result of this glitch? The science will still come in, but just a bit slower than hoped for. (For more information, click here to read NASA’s mission status report.)
Despite this setback, Juno is already delivering stunning images of the largest gas giant in our Solar System. Even though NASA made it clear that these images are merely scratching the surface of what is to come with Juno, it was breath taking to view the first images of Jupiter’s south pole. As often is the case with space exploration, the science team has been pleasantly surprised with what they are discovering about Jupiter. For example, one of the theories about Jupiter’s poles was that they might appear as a hexagon, like Saturn’s north pole. However, when exploring both north and south poles, no hexagonal shapes are visible on Jupiter.
What really grabbed me in the press briefing were the images from professionals and amateurs of the “storms” at Jupiter’s south pole. The lead scientist explained that at the terminator (where the illuminated side and dark side of Jupiter meet) you can see the shadows cast from vortexes rising off Jupiter’s surface. This is the same effect we see on the Moon when crater walls cast shadows on the lunar surface, especially at the terminator. The statement, “I should have thought of that,” which came from the lead scientist made me wonder what it must have been like when those who first studied the Moon realized that it wasn’t a smooth, uniform surface, but an irregular surface with fascinating features. This makes me wonder, just as our understanding of the Moon has deepened through the exploration of its surface, what lies ahead for us when exploring Jupiter’s surface?
What makes this mission revolutionary from an amateur perspective is NASA’s open invitation to everyone to take the raw data images from Juno and do their own processing. This invitation by NASA continues the growing trend of citizen science programs. What I personally appreciate is how open the processing of these images can be. The images can be processed in a way to explore the science of Jupiter or can be processed in a way that is artistic in nature. I always appreciate these type of invitations from the world of professional science. Citizen science outreach allows a doorway to be opened for everyone to participate in the exploration of God’s creation in new and exciting ways!
Below are some images I created from the raw data provided by NASA. If you think you need high-end digital software to enhance these images, you’re wrong. All I used to play with these images was the free Iphoto and photo software that came with my computer. Enjoy and I encourage you to check out the Juno Mission Webpage and add your own contribution to science. Let’s have some fun!
Juno Mission Webpage: https://www.missionjuno.swri.edu/
Here are three, false color images of Jupiter’s south pole. I was trying to play with the shadows cast by the different surface cloud features.
This image is by far my favorite. My goal was to try and be more the artist than hobby scientist. Enjoy!