Spaceflight Insider

The faces behind JunoCam: Jason Major

Jupiter's Great Red Spot as seen by JunoCam on July 10, 2017. Photo Credit: Jason Major / NASA / SwRI / MSSS

Jupiter’s Great Red Spot as seen by JunoCam on July 10, 2017. Photo Credit: Jason Major / NASA / SwRI / MSSS

JunoCam is the visible light camera on the Juno spacecraft orbiting Jupiter. The instrument’s primary purpose is to engage the public in citizen science. In fact, many of the raw images returned are processed by citizens with a passion for space exploration. SpaceFlight Insider reached out to five of these individuals. The fourth in this series is Jason Major, a freelance graphic designer.

Jason Major


Major lives in Warwick, Rhode Island. He said he has been following the Juno mission since its August 2011 launch and was even at Kennedy Space Center for a NASA social event to watch the liftoff.

Photo Credit: Jason Major / NASA / SwRI / MSSS

Photo Credit: Jason Major / NASA / SwRI / MSSS

SFI: Were you interested in space prior to hearing about JunoCam?

Major: “I’ve always enjoyed space exploration and science but I really got into it heavily after I started my blog in February 2009, LightsInTheDark.com, which features pictures from current and past space missions.”

SFI: What interested you about JunoCam?

Major: “The fact that we were going to be getting some new up-close views of Jupiter from orbit, the first since the Galileo mission in the 1990s, was just so amazing to me—especially since now with the internet we’d be able to see and access the images as soon as they arrived on Earth.”

SFI: On average, how long does it take to process a JunoCam image?

Major: “It really depends on the image you’re working from. The full raw, unmapped images take considerably longer than the mapped RGB versions, because all of the color channel data is included in horizontal bands within a single image. You literally have to dismantle it by red, green, and blue, then put those strips together, and then stack the resulting images to create a single color view..it can take a lot of time. Processing the mapped RGBs is much quicker, but the level of detail you can extract is greatly reduced.”

SFI: What software or equipment do you use to process your images?

Major: “I use Photoshop, which is something I’m familiar with as I’ve used it as a graphic designer and photographer for over 20 years. But even with the JunoCam images I find there to be a high learning curve.”

SFI: Do you have prior experience processing images? What about specifically scientific images?

Major: “I learned how to process color images from raw JPEGs with data returned from Cassini and then expanded that over to processing Mars rover images as well. I’m not doing it in any scientific manner, I’m just trying to get a result that looks good and might also happen to be somewhat accurate in terms of color—which isn’t easy, since “true color” on other planets can vary greatly.”

Photo Credit: Jason Major / NASA / SwRI / MSSS

Photo Credit: Jason Major / NASA / SwRI / MSSS

SFI: Do you see your images more as art, science, or a combination of the two?

Major: “I like to think of them as a combination, although I tend to stay on the side of accuracy over creativity. I’m turned off by over processed images that are too “unrealistic,” but I do understand that you do need to make a lot of adjustments and corrections to turn a raw file into something aesthetically interesting.”

SFI: Do you have goals and/or hopes for the images that you produce, and if so, what are they?

Major: “I do what I do because I like to make people say ‘wow,’ to see something that they’d never seen before, to be struck by the beauty of something that actually exists, right now, in our Solar System…and thanks to the effort and ingenuity of scientists and engineers we are able to see and learn more about.”

SFI: What are some of your favorite JunoCam images that you have processed?

Major: “Some of the images from the recent P6 pass feature swirling storms on Jupiter’s north pole, and honest to goodness they look like something out of an H.P. Lovecraft gothic horror story. You can’t help but see twisted faces with open eyes and mouths…yes it’s just pareidolia, but like everything else on Jupiter it’s turbo-charged!”

SFI: What are some of your favorite JunoCam images that others have processed?

Major: “There are a few artists out there who are doing wonders with the full raw files. Gerald Eichstädt, Seán Doran, Björn Jonsson…Kevin Gill, Roman Tcachenko…these folks are pulling incredible amounts of detail from the unwieldy raw files, as opposed to the low-res processed RGBs that I’ve been working on. Some are using software that they’ve written to make the process work, and the results have been incredible. I’m still trying to figure out how they’re doing what they do. But take an image like this that’s been worked on by Gerald and Seán…it just takes your breath away.”

Photo Credit: Jason Major / NASA / SwRI / MSSS

Photo Credit: Jason Major / NASA / SwRI / MSSS

SFI: What has the response been to your JunoCam images? Was that the response that you anticipated? What have you learned about the importance of public outreach in the process of processing JunoCam images?

Major: “People seem to really enjoy them at least as much as I do…one was even featured by NASA in a press release! https://www.nasa.gov/image-feature/jpl/pia21387/jupiter-s-swirling-pearl-storm I didn’t expect NASA to pick one of my relatively low-resolution images up, but they must have really liked it. An interesting thing to note is that the Juno mission didn’t originally include a camera. But they quickly realized the importance of having one on board—pictures are what people want. Yes, researchers need the data from their various instruments, but the public needs to have something to look at…and I have to assume that the scientists love the images as well.”

SFI: What do you love/enjoy about space?

Major: “I love the fact that it’s there. That it’s a real thing, containing other worlds and other places that are at the same time so amazingly different from our our own planet but also in many ways strikingly familiar. And space isn’t somewhere else, it’s where we are as well. We are in space, we are of space…learning about space really is learning about what we are and where we live. The sky isn’t a ceiling, closing us off…it’s a doorway, calling us to pass through.”

SFI: What inspires you?

Major: “I’m inspired by the work of other amateur processors, communicators, and professional scientists…their passion and skill makes me want to be better as well as learn more land pass that knowledge on.”

SFI: If there was one thing that you could say to someone who looks at your images, what would that be?

Major: “This is a real thing, that’s out there right now. Without science we wouldn’t even know it existed, but because of science and generations of people who care, we do. Now it’s up to us to learn more.”

Those interested can find more of Major’s work by following him on Twitter and Instagram, and on Facebook at LightsInTheDark. Additionally, he has a blog at www.lightsinthedark.com.

The final part of this five-part series will be published March 30, 2018. Be sure to return to SpaceFlight Insider to learn about Sean Doran, a self-described creative working across traditional and digital media. The first, second and third people in “The faces behind JunoCam” series were Justin Cowart, Kevin Gill and Sophia Nasr respectively.

Correction: The story was updated to clarify that JunoCam is the sole visible light camera on Juno. There are a total of nine cameras including two star cameras for navigation, four stellar compasses to aid in locating the spacecraft’s magnetic field sensors in inertial space, as well as infrared and ultraviolet imagers.

 

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A native of the Greater Los Angeles area, Ocean McIntyre's writing is focused primarily on science (STEM and STEAM) education and public outreach. McIntyre is a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador as well as holding memberships with The Planetary Society, Los Angeles Astronomical Society, and is a founding member of SafePlaceForSpace.org. McIntyre is currently studying astrophysics and planetary science with additional interests in astrobiology, cosmology and directed energy propulsion technology. With SpaceFlight Insider seeking to expand the amount of science articles it produces, McIntyre was a welcomed addition to our growing team.

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