Science enthusiasts have processed the new JunoCam images of Jupiter’s icy moon, with results that are out of this world.
Citizen scientists have furnished unique perspectives of the recent close flyby of Jupiter’s icy moon Europa by NASA’s Juno spacecraft. By processing raw images from JunoCam, the spacecraft’s public-engagement camera, members of the general public have created deep-space portraits of the Jovian moon that are not only spectacular, but also worthy of further scientific investigation.
“Starting with our flyby of Earth back in 2013, Juno citizen scientists have been invaluable in processing the numerous images we get with Juno,” said Scott Bolton. He is the Juno principal investigator from the Southwest Research Center in San Antonio. “During each flyby of Jupiter, and now its moons, their work provides a perspective that draws upon both science and art. They are a crucial part of our team, leading the way by using our images for new discoveries. These latest images from Europa do just that, pointing us to surface features that reveal details on how Europa works and what might be lurking both on top of the ice and below.”
JunoCam snapped four photos during its September 29 flyby of Europa. Here’s a detailed look:
Europa Up Close
JunoCam took its closest image (above) at an altitude of 945 miles (1,521 kilometers). At the time it was soaring over a region of the moon called Annwn Regio. In the image, terrain next to the day-night boundary is revealed to be rugged, covered with pits and troughs. A multitude of bright and dark ridges and bands stretch across a fractured surface, revealing the tectonic stresses that the moon has endured over millennia. The circular dark feature in the lower right is known as Callanish Crater.
JunoCam images such as these help fill in gaps in the maps from images obtained by NASA’s Voyager and Galileo missions. The image was processed by citizen scientist Björn Jónsson to enhance the color and contrast. The resolution is about 0.6 miles (1 kilometer) per pixel.
Science Meets Art
JunoCam images processed by citizen scientists frequently straddle the worlds of science and art. In the image (above) at right, processed by Navaneeth Krishnan, the enhanced color contrast causes larger surface features to stand out more than in the lightly processed version of the image (left). An example of the results can be seen in the lower right of the enhanced image, where notable shadows are cast by the pits and a small block. Small-scale texturing of the surface in the image needs to be carefully examined to distinguish between actual features and artifacts from processing, but the image draws us deeper into Europa’s alien landscape.
“Juno’s citizen scientists are part of a global united effort, which leads to both fresh perspectives and new insights,” said Candy Hansen. She is lead co-investigator for the JunoCam camera at the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Arizona. “Many times, citizen scientists will skip over the potential scientific applications of an image entirely, and focus on how Juno inspires their imagination or artistic sense, and we welcome their creativity.”
Citizen scientist Fernando Garcia Navarro applied his artistic talents to create this highly stylized image (above). He downloaded and processed an image that fellow citizen scientist Kevin M. Gill had previously worked on, producing a psychedelic rendering he has titled “Fall Colors of Europa.”
The processed image calls to mind NASA’s poster celebrating Juno’s 2021 five-year anniversary of its orbital insertion at Jupiter.
More Groovy Details About the Flyby
With a relative velocity of about 14.7 miles per second (23.6 kilometers per second) or 53,000 mph (85,000 km/h), the Juno spacecraft only had a few minutes to collect data and images during its close flyby of Europa. As planned, the gravitational pull of the moon altered Juno’s trajectory, decreasing the time it takes to orbit Jupiter from 43 to 38 days. The close approach also marks the second encounter with a Galilean moon during Juno’s extended mission. The mission explored Ganymede in June 2021. It is scheduled to make close flybys of Io, the third-largest of the four Galilean moons, in 2023 and 2024. Io is the most volcanically active body in the solar system, with hundreds of volcanoes, some erupting enormous lava fountains dozens of miles high.
Juno’s observations of Europa’s geology will not only add to our understanding of Europa, but also complement future NASA missions to the Jovian moon. NASA’s Europa Clipper mission, set to launch in 2024, will study the moon’s atmosphere, surface, and interior, with a primary science goal to determine whether there are places below Europa’s surface that could support life.
More About the Mission
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), a division of the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena, California, manages the Juno mission for the principal investigator, Scott J. Bolton, of the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. Juno is part of NASA’s New Frontiers Program, which is managed at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, for the agency’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Lockheed Martin Space in Denver built and operates the spacecraft.