S. Himmelstein | June 27, 2022
Citizen scientists are being recruited to use their web browsers and help astrophysicists categorize tens of thousands of images taken from the Juno spacecraft.
The focus of the Jovian Vortex Hunter project, led by University of Minnesota Twin Cities researchers with support from NASA, is the identification of atmospheric vortices, which are clouds that have a round or elliptical shape like hurricanes. Learning more about Jupiter’s atmosphere can provide new insight into weather patterns on Earth and potentially uncover more about the early beginnings of our solar system.
Jupiter’s atmosphere is much like that on Earth, with clouds of different shapes and sizes. On Jupiter, most of the clouds are made of chemicals other than water and can be several thousand kilometers in size. Some are also formed from powerful storms that are over 50 km/30 miles in height and hundreds of kilometers across. Determining how these clouds arise is crucial for understanding the planet’s atmosphere. Researchers are particularly interested in the diversity of cloud structures associated with vortical phenomenon on the planet.
An image from NASA’s Juno mission captures the northern hemisphere of Jupiter, where strong winds create the many swirling storms visible near the top of its atmosphere. Source: NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory-Caltech/Southwest Research Institute/MSSS/Kevin M. Gill
Participants will examine images from the JunoCam camera on board the Juno spacecraft that launched in 2011, reached Jupiter in 2016 and has been collecting data ever since. The project website offers guides and tutorials on the different types of features in these images and tips on identifying vortices.
NASA has previously issued several calls-to-action for citizen scientists, most recently for the analysis of images collected by the European Space Agency’s Rosetta mission to Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko during 2014 through 2016. In 2020, the public was invited to help NASA explore for exoplanets through the Planet Patrol initiative, a citizen science platform that allowed participants to collaborate with professional astronomers as they sorted through images collected by the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS). The agency also requested the aid of armchair scientists in locating and identifying coral ecosystems captured in satellite images.