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Breathtaking raw images of the Earth and Saturn system snapped by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft on July 19 during the worldwide ‘Wave at Saturn’ campaign are streaming back across 1 billion miles of interplanetary space.
Science team members are now busily processing the images to create individual color composites and a panoramic view of the ‘pale blue dot’ and the entire Saturnian system.
NASA just released the first individual color composite focusing on Earth – see above. And its spectacular!
See below our preliminary mosaic showing the Earth in context with nearly half of Saturn and floating in between its incomparably majestic rings.
To capture all of Saturn and its wide swath of rings, Cassini’s wide angle camera snapped a mosaic of 33 footprints.
“At each footprint, images were taken in different spectral filters for a total of 323 images,” says Carolyn Porco, Cassini Imaging Team leader of the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colo.
Cassini took the pictures of Earth between 2:27 and 2:42 p.m. PDT on Friday, July 19 from a distance of about 898 million miles (1.44 billion kilometers) away from the home to every human being that has ever lived.
Coincidentally, the first humans (Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin) set foot on the Moon 44 years ago nearly to the day of Cassini’s new images on July 20, 1969.
Distant views of the Earth from our robotic explorers, especially from the outer reaches of our Solar System, are few and far between, and are therefore events for space and astronomy enthusiasts and everyone else to savor.
“One of the most exciting Cassini events in 2013 will be the unusual opportunity on July 19 to image the whole Saturn system as it is backlit by the sun,” explained Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
“With Saturn covering the harsh light of the sun, we will be gathering unique ring science and also catching a glimpse of our very own home planet.”
Cassini previously took an absolutely fabulous mosaic of Saturn and Earth back in 2006 that stands as one of the landmark images of the space age.
Besides being picturesque, such mosaics also serve science. For example, the 2006 image “revealed that the dusty E ring, which is fed by the water-ice plume of the moon Enceladus, had unexpectedly large variations in brightness and color around its orbit,” says Spilker.
“We’ll want to see how that looks seven Earth years and a Saturnian season later, giving us clues to the forces at work in the Saturn system. We’ll do this analysis by collecting data from our visual and infrared mapping spectrometer, composite infrared mapping spectrometer and ultraviolet imaging spectrograph in addition to the imaging cameras.”
“July 19 marked the first time people on Earth had advance notice their planet’s portrait was being taken from interplanetary distances,” says NASA.
I waved fondly at Saturn and hope you had the chance to wave at Saturn from all across the globe. NASA reports that nearly 20,000 participated in organized events. Countless others waved too.
Cassini was launched in 1997 and achieved orbit at Saturn in 2004. The mission is scheduled to continue until 2017 when it will commit a suicide death dive into the gas giant.
“We can’t see individual continents or people in this portrait of Earth, but this pale blue dot is a succinct summary of who we were on July 19,” said Spilker in a NASA statement.
“Cassini’s picture reminds us how tiny our home planet is in the vastness of space, and also testifies to the ingenuity of the citizens of this tiny planet to send a robotic spacecraft so far away from home to study Saturn and take a look-back photo of Earth.”