Astronomy enthusiasts everywhere can contribute to Juno's mission by Pecier Decierdo


Yesterday, NASA's Juno spacecraft successfully performed a sensitive maneuver that inserted it into a unique orbit around Jupiter. After an almost 5-year journey spanning tens of millions of kilometers, the spacecraft only had to adjust to a 1-second difference in its planned arrival at the gas giant.

Fig 1. You can suggest and even vote on a point of interest for Juno's JunoCam!
Screenshot from: https://www.missionjuno.swri.edu/junocam/discussion

Juno's mission scientists will soon be busy analyzing the scientific data gathered by its suite of instruments that have been designed to peer through Jupiter's veil of clouds. In addition to these instruments, Juno also has the JunoCam.

JunoCam is a color camera on board the spacecraft that will allow astronomy enthusiasts and amateur astronomers all around the world to perform citizen science.

Fig 2. Location of JunoCam and a few other instruments aboard Juno.
Image credit: NASA

JunoCam and Citizen Science

Citizen science is what happens when amateurs contribute to the advancement of scientific projects, typically in collaboration with professional scientists.

For example, citizen scientists around the world help professional biologists identify new species of living organisms and determine the maximum range of known species. Citizen scientists can also help hunt for possible exoplanets hiding in the vast data gathered by the Kepler space telescope.

Fig 3. Citizen scientists can collaborate with professionals to add to our pool of knowledge.
Image credit: Huffington Post

With JunoCam, the public will act as an imaging team for a camera that will come breathtakingly close to the biggest planet in our Solar System. In this project, the public will be performing crucial processes from identifying the features of Jupiter for the camera to focus on to producing the processed views.

"This is really the public's camera," said Scott Bolton, Juno's principal investigator. "We are hoping students and whole classrooms will get involved and join our team."

Throughout Juno's nearly 5-year journey, the JunoCam has taken several snapshots to test whether it is working properly. The first snapshots of JunoCam were not of Jupiter, but were in fact of Earth. These were taken during Juno's flyby in October 2013, when the spacecraft came close to the Earth for a gravitational assist.

Fig 4. Snapshots of the Earth taken via the JunoCam during Juno's flyby in 2011.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

During the flyby, Earth's gravity gave Juno the extra boost that allowed it to race into its distant target - Jupiter. The flyby occurred more than two years after Juno was launched into space in August 2011.

JunoCam to provide intimate look at Jupiter

As Juno was approaching Jupiter last week, JunoCam took several snapshots of the gas giant and some of its moons. The camera was then put on hibernation during Juno's successful Jupiter Orbital Insertion yesterday. When it is turned on, the results of public discussions about which parts of Jupiter to focus on will be implemented. Members of the public can also help process the images taken. 

You can go to this link to join the discussion. Right now, voting on which Jovian features to focus on isn't up yet, because while Juno is already in orbit around Jupiter, it is yet to enter the science phase of its mission. The science phase will start in the middle of October.

Fig 5. Photos taken by JunoCam shortly before Jupiter Orbital Insertion.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

When the camera goes online again, the world will be treated to very close up views of the surface of Jupiter which citizen scientists have produced.

"JunoCam will capture high-resolution color views of Jupiter's bands, but that's only part of the story," said Juno program executive Diane Brown. "We'll also be treated to the first-ever views of Jupiter's north and south poles, which have never been imaged before."

This is a treat indeed, because we now know that Jupiter's poles have some of the Solar System's most fantastic display of lights - aurorae several times bigger than the entire Earth!

Amateur astronomers to help plan JunoCam's targets

Juno's mission scientists are also collaborating with amateur astronomers everywhere to help in planning JunoCam's targets. They are calling on amateur astronomers around the world to send their ground-based observations of the gas giant to help in deciding which parts of Jupiter's surface to focus on.

Christopher Go, a leading amateur astronomer based in the Philippines, is part of the support group for the Juno mission.

Go has been taking photographs of Jupiter from his observatory in Cebu since 2004. His observations led to his discovery of a feature on Jupiter dubbed the "Red Jr.", because it looks like a smaller version of the famous Great Red Spot.

Fig 6. Photos of Jupiter, showing the Great Red Spot and the so-called "Red Spot Jr", taken by Christoper Go.
Image credit: Christopher Go

"I am delighted that the amateur community has been invited to collaborate on Juno and excited at the opportunity to make an important contribution to the mission," Go said. 

And NASA is more than happy to invite the public to get involved.

"We want to give people an opportunity to participate with NASA, and public involvement is key to JunoCam's success," said Bolton. "This is citizen science at its best."


REFERENCES:

1. Jet Propulsion Laboratory (2015, December 5). To Jupiter with JunoCam! NASA Website. Retrieved from: http://www.nasa.gov/feature/jpl/to-jupiter-with-junocam
2. Pandey, A. (2016, July 5). NASA'S Juno Mission: Discuss and Vote What 'JunoCam' Captures As It Orbits Jupiter. International Business Times. Retrieved from: http://www.ibtimes.com/nasas-juno-mission-discuss-vote-what-junocam-captures-it-orbits-jupiter-2389301
3. Europlanet (2016, May 12). Amateurs prepare big-picture perspective to support Juno mission. Europlanet. Retrieved from: http://www.europlanet-eu.org/amateurs-prepare-big-picture-perspective-to-support-juno-mission/
4. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (2016, July 2). Juno. Retrieved from: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/juno/main/index.html
5. Jet Propulsion Laboratory (2016). Jupiter Orbit Insertion Online Press Kit. Retrieved from: http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/press_kits/juno/

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