In the early 1880s, the French astronomer Étienne Léopold Trouvelot published a dreamy illustration of Jupiter based on his telescope observations. Back then, the gas giant looked, through telescopes, like a fuzzy, gray marble, a dust particle hanging in the night sky. Trouvelot, who in his life created 7,000 astronomical drawings, sought to add a little more detail to the picture to enhance the planet’s features.
“My intent is ... to represent the celestial phenomena as they appear to the trained eye and to an experienced draughtsman through the great modern telescopes provided with the most delicate appliances,” he wrote at the time. He drew, with distinct lines and colors, Jupiter’s bands of swirling clouds and its trademark blotch, the Great Red Spot. “My aim is to combine ... accuracy in details ... with the natural elegance and delicate outlines peculiar to the objects depicted,” he explained.
More than a century later, the desire to share Jupiter with the public in this way lives on. Since July of last year, NASA’s Juno spacecraft orbiting Jupiter has returned batch after batch of grainy, raw images. When a new set arrives, the images are quickly uploaded to a public website, where a band of space enthusiasts, sprinkled around the world, grab them and get to work. They stitch the images together, make a few color corrections, and start sprucing. Some adjustments to contrast here, a little brightening there. They try to show Jupiter as Trouvelot did—the planet as it is, yes, but also as it is if humanity could get even closer, peer a little deeper, and see the wondrous details of a neighbor in the solar system.