On October 29, the Juno spacecraft that has been orbiting Jupiter since 2016, swooped above the planet’s North Temperate Belt and snapped what may be its most mesmerizing image of the gas giant’s clouds yet. The image, taken 4,400 miles above the planet and enhanced by citizen-scientists and artists Gerald Eichstädt and Seán Doran, includes white pop-up clouds and an anticyclonic storm that appears as a white oval.
The stormy image isn’t the only stunner to come from the batch of raw image data from Juno’s sixteenth pass of the planet recently released by NASA. Late last week Doran and image processing collaborator Brian Swift posted other shots, including one that shows a cloud that looks suspiciously like a dolphin diving through the clouds.
So, if you were to board a spaceship and take a peek out of the window at Jupiter, would you see beautiful cloud dolphins, bright white ovals and the Van Gogh-like swirls that NASA has published in the last few years? Not quite. Raw data from the Juno probe’s JunoCam is corrected for distortions, brightness and color before being posted. That process used to be done in-house by NASA, which would release images from its missions months after receiving the data.
But for the Juno Mission, NASA is releasing the raw data directly to the web where a community of amateur image processors can manipulate it and post their work to the mission website within days or even hours of receiving it, as Marina Koren at The Atlantic reports. While some of the processors take immense artistic license with the image data, others are more subtle and use color to enhance and highlight features on the planet like wind currents or storms.
The processors aren’t trying to pull one over on the public; the community asks everyone to be upfront about how they’ve manipulated the images. And the stakes are low, Koren reports that the mission of the JunoCam instrument—unlike other equipment aboard the probe—is to simply take pretty pictures, though scientists may use them for some research projects. Scientists don't seem to fret too much about the images either since it enhances our understanding of the planet.
“We don’t turn up our noses at artificial color,” planetary scientist Candy Hansen, who leads the JunoCam team, tells Koren. “We love artificial color.”
The true color images are much more muted and pastel, and cloud features are not as sharply delineated. But the solar system’s largest planet still has a serene beauty hiding the chaotic winds and storms that lie beneath.