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NASA Needs Your Help Snapping and Processing Images of Jupiter

The public will help direct JunoCam as it twirls past Jupiter next July

An artist's rendition of what the Juno spacecraft will look like as it flies by Jupiter (NASA/JPL)
smithsonian.com

NASA’s known for its mad photography skills—its satellites and spacecraft are equipped with some of the best cameras in existence. But when it comes to taking and processing photos of the Juno mission’s upcoming Jupiter flyby, it’s missing one thing: you.

The agency recently announced that it’s recruiting members of the public to help direct its photography efforts in space and process the images taken by JunoCam. The high-res camera was designed not only to take stunning, scientifically useful photos of Jupiter, but to get the public involved, too.

Since Juno spins along its route, JunoCam was designed to take pictures in strips. It snaps photos through red, green and blue filters in one rotation, near-infrared on the next. Then, computers and technicians back on earth stitch the photos together into a composite image. To see how it works, check out this gallery of images of the moon and Earth gathered as the spacecraft began its spinning trajectory towards Jupiter.

But JunoCam can’t take pictures if it doesn’t know what to pinpoint. NASA is now asking amateur astronomers to visit the camera’s website to help decide which areas of Jupiter to photograph by submitting telescopic images of the planet from back on Earth.

During a discussion period, members of the community will comment on the suggestions, then vote on the best areas of Jupiter’s atmosphere to photograph. Finally, the public will be invited to download raw images and process them at home in an attempt to get the best images of a planet that hasn’t been photographed by a NASA spacecraft since 1979.

Is NASA’s plea a gimmick to get members of the public excited about the flyby? No way—Candy Hansen, a member of the project’s science team, says NASA legitimately needs the public’s help. "In between our close Jupiter flybys, Juno goes far from the planet, and Jupiter will shrink in JunoCam's field of view to a size too small to be useful for choosing which features to capture," she explains in a release. "So we really are counting on having help from ground-based observers."

Get out your telescopes and fire up your image processing software—photographers are needed the ride of your life begins now and will continue long after Juno flies by Jupiter on July 4, 2016.

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