Citizen Scientists: Data for the World

Jupiter is a very artistic planet. Of all of the planets in our solar system it has probably the most structure the most color. So it connects with the artist. But the idea that you can couple our scientific imaging and understanding of the planet with artistic representations of not only what the planet means but what exploration means has been very valuable to the mission and to the public. One of the coolest things about Juno is that we have a camera on board. It is called JunoCam. It’s what we call a citizen science camera. JunoCam is on the spacecraft as a means of reaching out to the public. When we defined all of the science objectives, what is the mission Juno going to accomplish? There was no need for a camera. The reason JunoCam was added was primarily because I couldn’t imagine going all the way to Jupiter and flying over the poles and not seeing what they look like. And I wasn’t alone. Every person on my team wanted to see, what did it look like. And we figured if we want it, everybody wants it. We all want to know what it looks like. Because JunoCam is not necessary for the science objectives, it freed us up to say, “Well, how can we engage the public?” We only have a certain amount of storage on board the spacecraft, for JunoCam images. So, that means that when we make a close pass, past Jupiter, we cannot take a picture at every possible opportunity. We have to be ‘choosey we have to be selective. To really decide what we’re going to do on a given pass. We needed to have ground based pictures of Jupiter to base our plans on. And so that was the first sort of breakthrough was, ah! The amateur astronomy community. We’ll bring them on board. One of the best ways of getting continuous observations of Jupiter is to employ citizen scientists and their own small telescopes all around the world. The amateur astronomers are providing us with their pictures that we use for our planning. They upload their pictures onto our website and then one of our team puts together a cylindrical map so that we can see all of their pictures stitched together. We have the public actually identify points of interest and people say, “Oh I think this feature is interesting and we should have a picture of it and here’s why.” And so we can say, “Ok, of all these hundreds of points of interests here are the 25 that we will be passing over, that are candidates for JunoCam images.” So then we put it to a vote. What we have then is a prioritized list of targets. Then we develop the actual commands that go to the spacecraft. The camera carries out it’s commands, takes the pictures by voting priority. And then we post the data on our website. That is there for anyone to do whatever kind of processing they would like. They range from actual scientific quality to beautiful works of art. The citizen scientists are people from every walk of life and almost every age group. Children in schools doing it, teachers, you have engineers that work for NASA that don’t get to play with the data but now they do. A whole bunch of the pictures that are being made are equally art as they are science. And people are purposefully expressing themselves. I see pictures being made where Jupiter’s there and they’ve got an astronaut that they pasted on top. I’ve seen em’ where they take a picture of Jupiter and they add it to a photo like you’re on a moon of Jupiter. There are people that put Juno into the picture. There’s one I love. It’s a little angel standing on a perch and she’s looking at Jupiter and it’s just like oh that’s so cool, that’s, I could be standing on that perch, that’s kinda how I feel. Another one of my favorites. It’s a cup of coffee. And the swirls in the cream are like swirls in Jupiter’s atmosphere. What scientist would think of doing that with our data? And yet it’s like oh yeah that’s me, that’s my coffee. The camera was put on really to engage the public and allow them to share it with us. It’s actually become a very important scientific instrument and it’s providing us the first discoveries of Jupiter’s polar dynamics. How does this atmosphere really work? It’s the context for our infrared and seeing beneath the clouds. When we started out, we had this concept that we would do science in a fish bowl. Explain what we were doing all along the way. And then we decided well, why even have a fish bowl? We’ll just invite everybody into the fish bowl. Citizen scientists that are making pictures for us are part of our science team. We show the pictures and then there’s a team of scientists and some of them are atmospheric experts and they are looking up going, what’s that? You know, and now they are writing papers about the pictures that citizens from all walks of life have made. In fact some of them have made so many pictures that are so important, we’re inviting them into our scientific publications Because they’re part of the team. And it’s exciting and I hope that they’re getting as much excitement as we are from what they’re doing.

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