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Emily LakdawallaSeptember 7, 2011

Blast from the past: Pioneer 10 and 11 pictures of Jupiter

Here's a few pretty pictures that were recently dusted off by Ted Stryk, who is really living up to his nickname of "Planetary Dumpster Diver" with this work. Pioneer 10 and 11 passed by Jupiter on December 4, 1973, and December 3, 1974, respectively. Both of these encounters were before I (and Ted) were born! Here are three pictures from those two encounters, in versions newly processed by Ted from scanned photographic prints found during a research trip to NASA's Ames Research Center.

Globe of Jupiter from Pioneer 11

Processed image Copyright Ted Stryk. Original prints scanned to create this image courtesy NASA / Ames Research Center.

Globe of Jupiter from Pioneer 11
This exquisite image of Jupiter is from Pioneer 11. Taken from a distance of 760,000 kilometers, it is the last of Pioneer 11's approach images that contain the full disk of Jupiter. The image, C5 in the Pioneer catalog, is a combination of a red and a blue light scan with a synthesized green.

Amateur astronomers actually get more detailed views of Jupiter now than the Pioneers could in the '70s, but Earth-based photographers will never get views of Jupiter with such a high phase angle (that is, they'll never see Jupiter in this gibbous phase -- Jupiter always looks full or nearly full from Earth). With that in mind, here's a low-resolution but high-phase photo, also from Pioneer 11:

Pioneer 11 approaches Jupiter

Processed image Copyright Ted Stryk. Original prints scanned to create this image courtesy NASA / Ames Research Center.

Pioneer 11 approaches Jupiter
Pioneer 11 took this photo of Jupiter from a distance of 2.3 million kilometers.

And this one is from Pioneer 10, from much closer:

Jupiter closeup from Pioneer 10

Processed image Copyright Ted Stryk. Original prints scanned to create this image courtesy NASA / Ames Research Center.

Jupiter closeup from Pioneer 10
This rarely seen image, badly damaged by the effects of radiation on Pioneer 10's imager, was taken 726,000 km from Jupiter. A hint of the red spot can be seen on the terminator. This image is still a work in progress. It is from data set A4.

Ted has been wandering from data center to data center for the last few years, hunting for the original data sets from Pioneer 10 and 11's Imaging Photopolarimiter, without success. So these images are composed by scanning photographs that were printed from the data around the time of the flybys. It's not ideal, but without the original data it's the best that can be done. (And there are a few images for which Ted hasn't even found photographic prints, so they may be lost.) About working with and trying to interpret these data, Ted says:

Images like this present a processing challenge. During its approach to Jupiter, Pioneer 11 got a very good view of the south polar region. It got an even better view of the north polar region as it left. In my attempts to process these images, there appears to be a blue glow around the polar regions, perhaps due to a haze. However, I am working from scans and not digital data, and the scanned prints are of varying quality (the yellowing of the individual sheets of paper was surprisingly inconsistent). The limitations of the medium, plus the 6-bit nature of Pioneer images, make it very difficult to interpret faint features, and this color shift is near the limit of what can be discerned. So figuring out if the blue "haze" is real is difficult.

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Read more: pretty pictures, amateur image processing, Pioneer 10 and 11, Jupiter

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Emily Lakdawalla

Senior Editor and Planetary Evangelist for The Planetary Society
Read more articles by Emily Lakdawalla

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