The faces behind JunoCam: Sophia Nasr
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 third in this series is Sophia Nasr, a Ph.D. student in physics at the University of California, Irvine.
Nasr lives in Los Angeles and is a cosmologist focusing on astroparticle theory. She first heard about JunoCam via social media, but said she has been following the Juno mission for years.
SFI: Were you interested in space prior to hearing about JunoCam?
Nasr: “YES. I have had a love for space since childhood.”
SFI: What interested you about JunoCam?
Nasr: “At first, what interested me in the JunoCam was the ability of the public to get involved and select areas to image! More recently, what has interested me is being able to process images myself, a skill I’ve recently picked up.”
SFI: On average, how long does it take to process a JunoCam image?
Nasr: “This one is difficult; JunoCam images are not like Cassini images. They require a lot of work to get details out, so for me, it probably takes over an hour. Each image, taken in red, blue, and green filters, needs to be adjusted and manipulated to bring out details. It’s a process I am still trying to master.”
SFI: What software or equipment do you use to process your images?
Nasr: “I use Adobe Photoshop CS6 to process my images.”
SFI: Do you have prior experience processing images? What about specifically scientific images?
Nasr: “I recently began processing images taken by the Cassini Spacecraft. So for the most part, I process for fun, but as an astrophysics major in my undergraduate career, I did need to take images and process them for scientific purposes. We used software called IRAF. It was fun, but certainly not as user-friendly as Photoshop is!”
SFI: Do you see your images more as art, science, or a combination of the two?
Nasr: “While my images are definitely art and you can’t really get scientific data from them, they depict physics in action, hence you cannot really remove the science aspect of it! For example, I may process an image that is absolutely art because it comes from raw images that are not calibrated, but it shows a physical phenomenon that I can describe to my followers thanks to that image I processed! Hence, I’d say they are a combination of the two—science and fantastic art!”
SFI: Do you have goals and/or hopes for the images that you produce, and if so, what are they?
Nasr: “To be honest, my goal is to give the public an approximate true-color image of Jupiter, so they can see what it looks like and revel in its beauty. At the same time, if there’s something really interesting in an image I process, my goal is to explain the physics of what’s going on. So I really just want to get people interested in space and science through my images.”
SFI: What are some of your favorite JunoCam images that you have processed?
Nasr: “This is a tough one again, because I think all my JunoCam work could be better!”
SFI: What are some of your favorite JunoCam images that others have processed?
Nasr: “Oh gosh! Jason Major has processed this one that looks like there are demons in it, my friend Karol Masztalerz processed one of its south pole that is jaw-dropping beautiful, I can go on. Citizen scientists have really been working hard to breathe life into this mission through processing images for the public, and it’s really beautiful to see.”
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?
Nasr: “The response to my JunoCam images has been positive, more so that I would have thought! This makes me want to keep doing it and working harder to learn to make these images the best they can be. I didn’t think it would be all that great, because I didn’t think my images were good enough. JunoCam images are extremely difficult to work with, so I did not expect a similar response to these as I get with my Cassini images. I was wrong. These images are truly an integral part of scientific outreach. People want to learn more when they see the beauty of a magnificent planet that’s some 600 million kilometers away in an image brought to life by people like me. And I love that part of it.”
SFI: What do you love/enjoy about space?
Nasr: “EVERYTHING! The vastness, the mysteries it holds awaiting to be uncovered, the beauty that forms from matter under the force of gravity, be it a nebula, a planet, a star, a galaxy, all of it is awe-inspiring.”
SFI: What inspires you?
Nasr: “The mystery. This is why my research is focused on dark matter—a mysterious particle we haven’t discovered yet. I want to help uncover that mystery, along with others, in our Universe.”
SFI: If there was one thing that you could say to someone who looks at your images, what would that be?
Nasr: “I would encourage them to try processing as well, because it’s really fun, albeit hard work. I would encourage them to not only bask in the beauty of the image, but to think about the science that is going on to produce such a beautiful process.”
Part four of this five-part series will be published March 29, 2018. Be sure to return to SpaceFlight Insider to learn about Jason Major, a freelance graphic designer. The first and second people in “The faces behind JunoCam” series was Justin Cowart and Kevin Gill 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.
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.