How to help scientists study Jupiter’s atmosphere

An image from the Juno spacecraft’s 22nd orbit around Jupiter shows the region near the planet’s north pole. There is great diversity in the colors and shapes of these whirlpools (hurricane-like storms). Scientists need to create a catalog of these storms in order to understand how they form. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/SwRI/Ramanakumar Sankar

A new citizen science project, led by researchers at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities with support from NASA, is letting volunteers play an important role in helping scientists learn more about Jupiter’s atmosphere. Citizen scientists can help astrophysicists categorize tens of thousands of amazing images taken from the Juno spacecraft with just a web browser.

The planet Jupiter is located more than 467 million kilometers from Earth and has a very different atmosphere made of hydrogen and helium. Even so, Jupiter’s atmosphere contains a great diversity of clouds of different shapes and sizes, much like our own planet. Learning more about Jupiter’s atmosphere can give us new insight into weather patterns on our own planet and help us learn more about the beginnings of our solar system.

The projectcalled Jovian Vortex Hunter, is the University of Minnesota’s newest citizen science effort within the Zooniverse platform. Zooniverse, co-founded by the Adler Planetarium and Oxford, is the world’s largest and most popular online research platform, with over two million volunteers worldwide. These volunteers act as armchair scientists and archivists helping university research teams carry out their projects from the comfort of their homes.

NASA’s Juno spacecraft has flown more than 40 orbits around Jupiter collecting gigabytes of JunoCam imagery. The Jovian Vortex Hunter citizen science project run by the University of Minnesota Twin Cities contains more than 60,000 images from this dataset. Credit: NASA/JPL

Images for this project come from the JunoCam camera aboard NASA’s Juno spacecraft. Juno launched in 2011 and reached Jupiter in 2016 and has been collecting data ever since. Juno is in a very elliptical orbit around Jupiter, approaching a few thousand miles above the cloud tops on its closest approach. Juno has flown more than 40 orbits around Jupiter collecting gigabytes of JunoCam images. The Jovian Vortex Hunter Project contains over 60,000 images from this dataset.

In this project, citizen scientists are asked to identify atmospheric vortices, which are clouds that have a round or elliptical shape like hurricanes. Scientists are particularly interested in the physics that explains why these atmospheric features come in different shapes and sizes.

“There are so many images that it would take our small team several years to review them all,” said Ramanakumar Sankar, postdoctoral researcher at the University of Minnesota’s School of Physics and Astronomy, who directs the project. “We need the public’s help in identifying which images have vortices, where they are, and how they appear. With the catalog of features (especially vortices) in place, we can study the physics behind how these features form and how they relate to the structure of the atmosphere, especially under clouds, where we cannot observe them directly.”

This tutorial from the Jovian Vortex Hunter Citizen Science Project shows how citizen scientists can help astrophysicists by identifying and categorizing vortices in Jupiter’s atmosphere. Credit: Jovian Vortex Hunter, Zooniverse

For those who think they don’t have the expertise or skills to review space images of Jupiter, don’t worry. The Jovian Vortex Hunter Project offers several helpful guides and tutorials on the different types of features in these images and tips on identifying vortices. Sankar said each image is reviewed by at least 16 people.

“If one person has trouble categorizing an image, maybe others will too,” Sankar said. “It could indicate that we have found something new or unique that we are taking a closer look at.”

Sankar said the information they get from citizen scientists will not only be used to study Jupiter, but will also help write a computer algorithm that could speed up future identification of Jupiter’s atmospheric features by combining computer aid with the human expertise.

To join the project as a citizen scientist, go to Jovian Vortex Hunter website.

Clouds on Jupiter rising above the surrounding atmosphere

More information:
Jovian Vortex Hunter: … jovian-vortex-hunter

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