Citizen scientists improve fresh Juno pictures of Europa

This pair of images shows the same portion of Europa as captured by the Juno spacecraft’s JunoCam during the mission’s Sept. 29 close flyby. The image at the left was minimally processed. A citizen scientist processed the image at right, and enhanced color contrast causes larger surface features to stand out. Credit: Image data: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS. Image processing: Navaneeth Krishnan S © CC BY

Citizen scientists have contributed fresh viewpoints on NASA's Juno spacecraft's recent close flyby of Jupiter's ice moon Europa. Members of the public have generated deep-space photos of the Jovian moon that are not only awe-inspiring but also worthy of further scientific investigation by processing raw images from JunoCam, the spacecraft's public-engagement camera. 

According to Scott Bolton, Juno lead investigator from the Southwest Research Center in San Antonio, "Juno citizen scientists have been invaluable in processing the numerous images we get with Juno since our flyby of Earth in 2013." Their work gives a perspective that relies on both science and art throughout each pass of Jupiter, and now its moons. They are an important part of our team, paving the road for new discoveries by utilizing our photographs. These new Europa photos do precisely that, pointing to surface characteristics that give insights into how Europa functions and what may be hiding both above and below the ice. JunoCam captured four images of Europa during its September 29 flyby. Here's a closer look:

Close-up of Europa

JunoCam captured the closest photograph at a height of 945 miles (1,521 kilometers) over the Annwn Regio area of the moon. The ground along the day-night barrier is revealed to be rocky in the photograph (not depicted), with pits and troughs. Numerous brilliant and dark ridges and bands run over the moon's broken surface, showing millennia of tectonic stress. Callanish Crater is a black circular feature on the lower right. These JunoCam photos help fill in gaps in maps created by NASA's Voyager and Galileo missions. Björn Jónsson, a citizen scientist, enhanced the image's color and contrast. The pixel resolution is around 0.6 miles (1 kilometer).

Science and art collide

Citizen scientists' JunoCam photographs frequently blur the lines between science and art. The heightened color contrast in the image at right, processed by Navaneeth Krishnan, makes bigger surface characteristics stand out more than in the minimally treated version of the image above (left). The consequences can be seen in the lower right of the improved image, where pits and a tiny block throw noticeable shadows. The photograph's small-scale texturing of the surface requires close examination to discern between features and processing errors, yet the image transports us deeper into Europa's strange world.

Juno's citizen scientists, according to Candy Hansen, principal co-investigator for the JunoCam camera at the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Arizona, are part of a global collaborative effort that results in both new viewpoints and new discoveries. Many times, citizen scientists will ignore the possible scientific implications of an image altogether, instead focusing on how Juno sparks their imagination or artistic sense, which we appreciate."

This highly stylized view of Jupiter’s icy moon Europa was created by reprocessing an image captured by JunoCam during the mission’s close flyby on Sept. 29. Credit: Image data: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS. Image processing: Kevin M. Gill / Fernando Garcia Navarro CC BY 2.0

Colors of autumn

Fernando Garcia Navarro, a citizen scientist, used his creative abilities to produce this artwork. He obtained and processed a photograph already worked on by another citizen scientist Kevin M. Gill, resulting in a psychedelic representation named Fall Colors of Europa. The processed picture is reminiscent of NASA's poster commemorating Juno's five-year anniversary of orbital insertion at Jupiter in 2021.

NASA’s poster celebrating Juno’s 2021 five-year anniversary of its orbital insertion at Jupiter. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

More cool information regarding the flyover

The Juno spacecraft only had a few minutes to acquire data and photographs during its near flyby of Europa, with a relative velocity of around 14.7 miles per second (23.6 kilometers per second). The moon's gravitational pull altered Juno's course, lowering the time it takes to orbit Jupiter from 43 to 38 days. This is Juno's second close encounter with a Galilean moon during her prolonged journey. The project will study Ganymede in June 2021 and will travel close to Io, the most volcanic moon in the solar system, between 2023 and 2024. Juno's studies of Europa's geology will not only help us comprehend Europa, but will also help future missions to the Jovian moon. The Europa Clipper mission, scheduled to launch in 2024, will investigate the moon's atmosphere, surface, and interior, with the primary scientific aim of determining whether there are areas under Europa's surface that may host life.

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