JJupiter is as much a planetary lava lamp as it is a harbinger of pure death. The planet’s immense size and swirling bands of gas have baffled and fascinated astronomers since its discovery in 1610. But now, thanks to NASA’s Juno spacecraft and the trippy work of two citizen astronomers we’ve made strides in bettering our understanding of the gas giant’s whirling atmosphere.
Gerald Eichstädt and Seán Doran used images taken by Juno as it whizzed past Jupiter’s south pole on April 2018 to produce an animation of the planet’s cloud tops. They presented their work to scientists from around the world at the “New Views of Jupiter: Pro-Am Collaborations during and beyond the NASA Juno Mission” workshop hosted by the Royal Astronomical Society in London on May 10. This psychedelic recreation of the planet’s atmosphere is the first step in understanding Jupiter’s ever-changing appearance.
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“This animation represents a ‘feasibility test’,” says Eichstädt 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.”
The video seen above isn’t exactly what Jupiter would look like to the naked-eye if you were aboard Juno. Instead, Eichstädt and Doran pulled from the movement detected in Juno imagery and tried to fill in the blanks as best they could by using rendering software.
The work of Eichstädt, a mathematician, and Doran, a visual artist, have shown the type of results that are possible when NASA collaborates with other specialists. The space agency collects a massive amount of data from the great unknown and presents it as best as possible. But with the help of other professionals, who aren’t necessarily astronomers, that data can be brought to life in ways that were never planned.
“The amateur observations are key to detecting rapid changes of the atmospheric properties on shorter time scales,” says Glenn Orton of the Juno science team, in a press release. “Thus, they not only measure changes between Juno’s close encounters with Jupiter, but they also provide a means to anticipate changes that might influence how future observations can be interpreted, and they could even influence decisions on Juno’s observing strategy in the case of unexpected phenomena.”
So it turns out you don’t need to be an astrophysicist to help advance the study of our solar system. All you need is an obsession with all things extraterrestrial. Now sit back and enjoy the work of some fellow space-enthusiasts.