With its distinctive coloured features like the Great Red Spot, we typically picture Jupiter as having an orangey-brown colour. However, a recent photograph of Jupiter released by NASA depicts the planet in a very different colour scheme, with the clouds of the planet appearing in two different formats. First, there is the planet as it appears to the human eye, which is earthy, browny beige and slightly green. Second, a version with more saturation reveals the finer details of the cloud formations in vibrant teals and greens.
The images were created using data collected by NASA’s Juno spacecraft, and they were edited by amateur image editor and citizen scientist Björn Jónsson.
The process of converting observations from spacecraft or telescopes into an image is intricate and involves numerous specific decisions about colour, contrast, and balance that have an impact on the final image’s appearance and the features that are highlighted. Like the image of Jupiter on the left, it is possible to manipulate an image to make it as similar to what we would see in person if we travelled to the object. As you can see in the image of Jupiter on the right, it’s also helpful to make adjustments like increasing the saturation and contrast to help see features like cloud shapes in sharper detail.
The deeper swirling vortices of Jupiter’s atmosphere can be seen in the image with more saturation, and the various colours can be used to identify the various chemicals that make up the atmosphere.
All Juno data is made publicly available in its raw form on the mission’s website, and members of the public are encouraged to try their hand at processing the data for themselves. This is how Jónsson was able to process these images. While you’re there, you can view more breathtaking pictures taken by Jónsson as well as numerous other pictures that other citizen scientists have altered.