A new image, processed by a citizen scientist using data from a NASA spacecraft near Jupiter, shows the huge planet in a friendly new light.
While Jupiter — the largest planet in our solar system — is usually known for its immense gravity and extreme belts of hazardous radiation, the world looks distinctly happy, with a large smile in this new image created from data collected by NASA's Juno mission. Randy Ahn created the smiley photo by copying and flipping an image of a "half-lit" Jupiter, mirroring it on itself, according to NASA.
The new image was released as part of the agency's JunoCam initiative, which asks people to process raw images beamed back from Jupiter by Juno.
"The amateurs are giving us a different perspective on how to process images," Candy Hansen, JunoCam imaging scientist, said in a statement.
"They are experimenting with different color enhancements, different highlights or annotations than we would normally expect. They are identifying storms tracked from Earth to connect our images to the historical record. This is citizen science at its best."
Juno is also beaming back plenty of science in its own right, but the spacecraft — which reached Jupiter in July — recently ran into some snags.
Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Alex Mai
Unexpected issues onboard
The spacecraft went into "safe mode" unexpectedly on Tuesday, when a monitor forced a reboot of Juno's computer after detecting something wasn't right. Because of that safe mode, the science instruments were turned off, and the spacecraft wasn't able to gather scientific data during a close flyby of Jupiter.
Mission controllers still aren't sure exactly why the spacecraft went into safe mode, but radiation doesn't seem to be the culprit.
“At the time safe mode was entered, the spacecraft was more than 13 hours from its closest approach to Jupiter,” Rick Nybakken, Juno project manager, said in the statement.
“We were still quite a ways from the planet’s more intense radiation belts and magnetic fields. The spacecraft is healthy and we are working our standard recovery procedure.”
NASA is also looking into another problem with Juno involving valves important to its propulsion system.
Last week, mission controllers put off an engine burn that would have brought Juno's orbit down to 14 days, instead of 53, but due to the issue, they decided to postpone.
It's not yet clear when or if engineers will decide to change Juno's orbit, but even if it does stay in the longer orbit for the rest of its mission, it will still be scientifically productive, according to Juno principal investigator Scott Bolton.
"The worst-case-scenario is I have to be patient and get the science slowly," Bolton said. If they have to stick to the 53-day orbit, "the science opportunities are all there," he added.
In spite of those setbacks, scientists are still working through analyzing data sent home from Juno gathered during its close flyby of Jupiter on Aug. 27.
Scientists are starting to peer beneath Jupiter's cloud tops for the first time, checking out the layers below.
"We are seeing that those beautiful belts and bands of orange and white we see at Jupiter’s cloud tops extend in some version as far down as our instruments can see, but seem to change with each layer," Bolton said.
Juno also gathered data about the planet's strong magnetic field and its extreme auroras, but those discoveries are expected to be announced later this year.