Join Donate

Emily LakdawallaDecember 18, 2017

#AGU17: JunoCam science

JunoCam has been wowing us with gorgeous images of Jupiter since Juno arrived. That's its entire reason for existence: the fact that it would've been criminal not to send a camera on a Jupiter mission, even though the camera wasn't required to achieve Juno's interior-focused science objectives. Time and again, though, small cameras have yielded unexpected scientific discoveries. At last week's American Geophysical Union (AGU) meeting, JunoCam team leader Candy Hansen gave the first public presentation focused on the science achieved by JunoCam, and asked the gathered scientific community to join in.

A portrait of Juno (artist's rendering)

NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Kevin M. Gill

A portrait of Juno (artist's rendering)
Viewing Juno above an image of Jupiter taken on May 19 2017.

Candy kindly shared her presentation with me so I can summarize it thoroughly here. The first and most obvious results came from JunoCam's spectacular images of Jupiter's poles. After all, JunoCam was explicitly designed to have a field of view able to encompass all of Jupiter's disk at the moment on each orbit that Juno passes above and below each pole. There are gorgeous swirling storms all over both poles. Candy showed that citizen scientists have documented the flow direction in these storms and found it to be cyclonic (anticlockwise in the northern hemisphere, clockwise in the southern hemisphere).

Candy Hansen at AGU17, slide 10: Circumpolar cyclones around Jupiter's north pole

NASA / JPL / SwRI / MSSS / Gerald Eichstaedt

Candy Hansen at AGU17, slide 10: Circumpolar cyclones around Jupiter's north pole

Both poles have a circle of cyclones surrounding the pole, but there is a different number of cyclones in each pole. The north pole has eight, so they form an octagon, but Candy points out that they alternate in latitude, so she characterizes it as two squares. (I've just recorded this week's Planetary Radio with Mat Kaplan, and together we decided that this is a circumpolar conga line of storms sticking their legs out to alternate sides.) It's not possible to see whether there is another cyclone right at the pole in JunoCam data because it's northern polar winter on Jupiter. Of course, it's entirely possible for the thermal imager JIRAM to see whether there is another one at the pole, and in fact I saw a JIRAM image of the beautiful cloud structure at the poles during the AGU talks, but I do not remember whether there was a storm at the center visible to JIRAM. (Argh!)

Candy Hansen at AGU17, slide 11: Northern circumpolar cyclones

NASA / JPL / SwRI / MSSS / Gerald Eichstaedt

Candy Hansen at AGU17, slide 11: Northern circumpolar cyclones

In the south, there are five circumpolar cyclones, making a squashed pentagon (pentacle? This is a different kind of dance entirely from the northern conga line!) A gap in the circle of cyclones makes it seem as though it ought to have a sixth -- it's closer to a "home plate" than a regular pentagon. Candy remarked that they've been watching to see if one of the other smaller storms in the area will scoot in to fill the gap and turn it into a hexagon, but so far, that hasn't happened.

Candy Hansen at AGU17, slide 12: South pole

NASA / JPL / SwRI / MSSS / Gerald Eichstaedt / John Rogers

Candy Hansen at AGU17, slide 12: South pole

One of the citizen scientists leading the effort to interpret JunoCam images is John Rogers of the British Astronomical Association. He's been comparing the JunoCam images to historical photos of Jupiter, and noticed signs that Jupiter's south equatorial belt may be getting ready to fade again, as it last did in 2010.

Candy Hansen at AGU17, slide 14: New south tropical disturbance
Candy Hansen at AGU17, slide 14: New south tropical disturbance

Candy also shared this awesome gif showing cyclonic rotation in the south temperate belt "ghost" (so named because it's a storm that is specter-like; with the same color as its belt you hardly see it except by its motion).

Cyclonic rotation in Jupiter's south temperate belt

NASA / JPL / SwRI / MSSS / Gerald Eichstaedt

Cyclonic rotation in Jupiter's south temperate belt "ghost"
A time-lapse of several images acquired on one Juno orbit demonstrates the direction of circulation around a light-hued storm in one of Jupiter's light-colored belts.

Members of the public don't often play with the methane-filter data from JunoCam, but it reveals interesting features in Jupiter's clouds, notably a wavy-edged south polar hood that is bright in the methane band.

Candy Hansen at AGU17, slide 18: Methane images

NASA / JPL / SwRI / MSSS / Gerald Eichstaedt / John Rogers

Candy Hansen at AGU17, slide 18: Methane images

Higher-resolution JunoCam images reveal mindblowing detail in the clouds, including all these (relatively speaking) itty bitty "pop-up" storms in the south tropical zone. You can tell they pop up above the rest of the clouds because they cast shadows toward the terminator (toward the right of the image).

Candy Hansen at AGU17, slide 19: Pop-up storms in the South Tropical Zone

NASA / JPL / SwRI / MSSS / Gerald Eichstaedt

Candy Hansen at AGU17, slide 19: Pop-up storms in the South Tropical Zone

Cross-checking with other instruments, Candy said they were not thunderheads, because there is no evidence for lightning under these clouds. Instead, they may be altocumulus castellanus:

Candy Hansen at AGU17, slide 20: Pop-up storms

NASA / JPL / SwRI / MSSS / Gerald Eichstaedt; Wikimedia commons

Candy Hansen at AGU17, slide 20: Pop-up storms

JunoCam's color-vision capability raises more questions than it answers. Candy pointed out that most of the images in her talk had dramatically enhanced color. She mentioned Bjorn Jonsson's work producing versions intended to show how a human would see the clouds. It's less dramatic, certainly, but she told me later that when she looks hard at Bjorn's versions, she sees all the same differences you can see in Sean Doran's -- they're just more subtle in the natural-color images.

Jovian storms viewed by Juno

NASA / JPL-Caltech / SwRI / MSSS / Björn Jónsson

Jovian storms viewed by Juno
The Juno spacecraft captured this approximately true color/contrast image of Jupiter during its sixth perijove flyby on May 19, 2017.

Candy commented that the color of the clouds "is as intriguing as can be." She pointed out that adjacent storms can have different colors -- one brown, one blue. They can have different-looking structures. They can have different-colored rims and centers. "So much to work on here." Yes.

Candy Hansen at AGU17, slide 23: Color versus lifetime?

NASA / JPL / SwRI / MSSS / Gerald Eichstaedt / Sean Doran

Candy Hansen at AGU17, slide 23: Color versus lifetime?
Candy Hansen at AGU17, slide 24: Different colored rims and centers

NASA / JPL / SwRI / MSSS / Gerald Eichstaedt / Sean Doran

Candy Hansen at AGU17, slide 24: Different colored rims and centers

Clearly, there's a lot of science to be done with JunoCam images. But JunoCam doesn't have a science team per se -- there are scientists involved, like Candy and Glenn Orton and others -- but their roles are to plan the images; there's no funding to actually do the science. In any case, it would be inconsistent with the philosophy of JunoCam to keep the science fun for themselves. So Candy announced a new page on the JunoCam website, the Analysis page, and invited everybody in the room at AGU to participate and to spread the word.

"The goal of it is to do science in a fishbowl," Candy said. "We want to do all of the science analysis in the public eye, to give the public a chance to watch the sausage being made." While she was addressing a room full of scientists, and hoping to entice scientists' interest in the work, it was clear from her presentation that skilled and devoted amateurs like John Rogers and Gerald and Bjorn and Sean would be part of the effort, too.

 

Read more: citizen science, amateur image processing, Juno, conference report, Jupiter

You are here:
Headshot of Emily Lakdawalla (2017, alternate)
Emily Lakdawalla

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

Comments & Sharing
MER
Let's Change the World

Become a member of The Planetary Society and together we will create the future of space exploration.

Join Today

Emily Lakdwalla
The Planetary Fund

Support enables our dedicated journalists to research deeply and bring you original space exploration articles.

Donate