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Joining forces with JunoCam
Swirls, eddies and vortices within Jupiter’s North North Temperate Belt

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NASA's Juno spacecraft currently orbiting Jupiter offers an opportunity for amateur observers to collaborate with mission scientists – to mutual benefit.

The camera on the Juno spacecraft – called JunoCam – is there to strengthen and deepen public engagement with the mission by providing close-up images of Jupiter's complex clouds through each close approach of the spacecraft. Not only do observers on Earth, amateur and professional, provide images to give context to these detailed views from each perijove, but amateur observers also get involved in processing the raw images and, when Juno's orbit allows, there is a public vote for features of interest to be observed.

Leigh Fletcher of the University of Leicester and John Rodgers of the British Astronomical Association wrote in A&G about a meeting organised through Europlanet to discuss the results, attended by mission scientists and both professional astronomers and citizen scientists involved in the project. The work done on processing the raw images by a few dedicated citizen scientists has been very beneficial to the project, allowing others to use them in other ways, for art projects and. to make movies, etc.

Speakers at the meeting reported by Fletcher and Rodgers describe the processes undertaken, the software used and the storage of the information – which in turn makes these images valuable for research, for example on tracking the velocities and evolution of discrete features in particular cloud belts. This is a genuine collaboration, a two-way street between amateur and professional, as. the best citizen science projects are. 

It's also clear from this exciting project that technological advances have opened up new areas to citizen science. Many amateur observers are expert astrophotographers using sophisticated kit and imaging software, the sort of thing that was once the preserve of the professionals. And there's more to come, such as the development of a compact adaptive optics system suitable for smaller telescopes. The sky is no longer the limit, it seems.



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