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Citizens of Earth, get ready for your Cassini close-up: once again the spacecraft is preparing to capture images of Saturn positioned between it and the Sun, allowing for incredible views of the ring system and its atmosphere — and also a tiny “pale blue dot” in the distance we call home.
The mosaic above was composed of images captured during such an eclipse event in September 2006, and quickly became an astronomical sensation. It’s not often we get an idea of what we look like from so far away, and seeing our entire world represented as a small speck of light nestled between Saturn’s rings is, to me anyway, both impressive and humbling.
Humbling because of how small we look, but impressive because as a species we have found a way to do it.
And next month, on Friday, July 19 between 21:27 and 21:42 UTC (5:27 – 5:42 p.m. EDT) Cassini will do it again.
“Ever since we caught sight of the Earth among the rings of Saturn in September 2006 in a mosaic that has become one of Cassini’s most beloved images, I have wanted to do it all over again, only better,” said Cassini imaging team leader, Carolyn Porco. “And this time, I wanted to turn the entire event into an opportunity for everyone around the globe, at the same time, to savor the uniqueness of our beautiful blue-ocean planet and the preciousness of the life on it.”
Porco was involved in co-initiating and executing the famous “Pale Blue Dot” image of Earth taken by NASA’s Voyager 1 from beyond the orbit of Neptune in 1990.
“It will be a day for all the world to celebrate,” she said.
The intent for the upcoming mosaic is to capture the whole scene, Earth and Saturn’s rings from one end to the other, in Cassini’s red, green and blue filters that can be composited to form a natural color view of what our eyes might see at Saturn. Earth and the Moon will also be imaged with a high resolution camera — something not yet done by Cassini.
We can all consider ourselves pretty lucky, too… this is the first time in history that we humans will know in advance that our picture is going to be taken from nearly a billion miles away.
“While Earth will be only about a pixel in size from Cassini’s vantage point 898 million miles [1.44 billion kilometers] away, the Cassini team is looking forward to giving the world a chance to see what their home looks like from Saturn,” said Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “With this advance notice, we hope you’ll join us in waving at Saturn from Earth, so we can commemorate this special opportunity.”
So on July 19, remember to look up and wave… Cassini will be watching!
“That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives… There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world.”
– Carl Sagan