Last week, scientists and space-lovers alike mourned Cassini, the orbiter that opened our eyes to Saturn's beauty. But not all hope is lost—another spacecraft is still beaming back images of another incredible gas giant. That's the Juno mission, in orbit around Jupiter and carrying a camera nicknamed JunoCam.
And every 53 days, Juno skims past Jupiter, flying just 2,600 miles above the top of the planet's clouds. Each flyby, a community of Jupiter fans that spans the globe chooses what features JunoCam should focus its lens on.
They're rewarded by a dump of raw image files that, to the untrained eye, look—well, let's just call them a little uninspiring. The colors are muted, the shapes often odd hourglass slices of planet thanks to the spacecraft's orbit. Occasionally more of the frame is black than Jupiter.
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After each close approach, which NASA refers to as "perijove," the agency makes the new files available to the public on its website. That's when the image processors get to work, turning the raw material into the sort of eye-catching, jaw-dropping festival of color and detail we've become so used to seeing from NASA missions. Their efforts stream out over the weeks between perijoves.
The result is images like the series below, taken on September 1 during the spacecraft's eighth trip close to the planet's clouds—yet incredibly, considering their detail, these images were taken between 7,500 and 14,250 miles away from the planet.
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As the community selects and discusses features to photograph, it gives them nicknames. Some of the features visible in this series of images include "Hurricane Rachel," "Dalmatian Zone," and "Coolest Place on Jupiter," which is named for its bluish hue.
"This image sequence is but a very small slice of what Jupiter has to offer, it also demonstrates how active and chaotic the gas giant is," Sean Doran, a Londoner who did the final step of processing this image series, wrote in an email. "It is humbling to contemplate and beautiful to look at."
Doran took up the hobby after seeing images processed by Gerald Eichstadt, another member of the JunoCam community. "I saw an opportunity to give a very subjective aesthetic make-over to his images," Doran wrote. For him, the images aren't just pretty pictures but also a way to encourage people to think about what's out there and how humans relate to it. "If it makes them gaze into their navel a little more often then I consider that a plus!"
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