What the Earth and Moon Look Like From Saturn

Did you smile and wave at Saturn on Friday? If you did (and even if you didn’t) here’s how you — and everyone else on Earth — looked to the Cassini spacecraft, 898.4 million miles away.

Hope you didn’t blink!

The image above is a color-composite made from raw images acquired by Cassini in red, green, and blue visible light wavelengths. Some of the specks around the edges are background stars, and others are the result of high-energy particle noise,  of which some have been digitally removed.

The Moon is the bright dot just below and to the left of Earth. (An original raw image can be seen here.)

UPDATE 7/22: See the *official* NASA images here.

Cassini acquired the images while capturing views of Saturn in eclipse against the Sun between 22:24:00 UTC on July 19 and 02:43:00 UTC on July 20 (6:24 to 10:43 pm EDT July 19.) On Cassini time, the Earth imaging took place between 22:47:13 UTC (6:47:13 pm EDT) and 23:01:56 UTC (7:01:56 pm EDT) on the 19th.

Full mosaic arrangement acquired by Cassini on July 19-20 UTC. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI)
Full mosaic arrangement acquired by Cassini on July 19-20 UTC. Earth was positioned just below the planet. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI)

The world was invited to “Wave at Saturn” beginning 5:27 pm EDT on Friday — which allowed enough time for the photons from a waving world to actually reach Cassini’s camera just beyond Saturn, 1.44 billion kilometers away. (Did you wave? I did!) It was the first time Earth’s population was made aware beforehand that their picture would be taken from such a cosmic distance.

A crowd gathered on the mall at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena to wave at Saturn on July 19 (NASA/JPL-Caltech)
A crowd gathered on the mall at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena to wave at Saturn on July 19 (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

The image of our planet and moon, seen as merely a couple of bright points of light against the blackness of space, recalls Sagan’s poignant “pale blue dot” passage from Cosmos

“From this distant vantage point, the Earth might not seem of any particular interest. But for us, it’s different. Consider again that dot. 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. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The "pale blue dot" of Earth captured by Voyager 1 in Feb. 1990 (NASA/JPL)
The “pale blue dot” of Earth captured by Voyager 1 in Feb. 1990 (NASA/JPL)

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.

It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”

44 Replies to “What the Earth and Moon Look Like From Saturn”

  1. Jason, you may have a typo on that distance from Earth to Saturn – – Saturn’s about 1.5 *Billion* kilometers from Earth right now.

      1. 1445190912 Kilometers = 898000000 Miles
        1 billion, 445 million, 909 thousand, 912 ~ 1.445 Billion

    1. It would be a tiny spec behind the rings of saturn, eyes and brain probably wouldn’t spot it… the point is that this is what it looks like from Cassini, not what it would look like if there were a human pair of eyes at that point in space.

      1. But the Earth and Moon, being much closer to the Sun, receive and reflect much more light (93 times as much per unit area if my quick calculation is correct – (898m/93m)**2).

      2. No, the image is magnified. I guarantee it. Cassini’s ‘eyes’ are the same as human eyes unless you magnify the image. An eye is an eye. As for reflecting more light, we don’t see Venus this large or bright from Earth even though it is much, much closer to us than the Earth is to Saturn, and the albedo of Venus is three times that of Earth’s.
        Bottom line is that this image is magnified at least 10x.

      3. See the original raw image (link in article) for how big Earth looked to Cassini’s camera.

      4. I’ll reference this http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/photos/imagedetails/?imageID=2279 which talks about a different photograph of Earth taken from the same distance. “A magnified view of the image taken through the clear filter (monochrome) shows
        the moon as a dim protrusion to the upper left of Earth.”
        Even though they say the image is “raw” this refers to the color enhancement not the magnification factor. The Earth does not appear bigger from Saturn than Saturn does from Earth. It’s common sense. However, you can see the rings of Saturn using a binoculars, so the magnification needed isn’t a lot. Believe me, I’ve looked at Saturn a hundred times. This image of Earth is magnified, probably 25-50x.

      5. That’s true about Venus, at least as far as image size. It does appear that bright though, even visible before sunset in certain parts of its orbit.But I didn’t realize you were referring to magnification. I have no doubt either that it’s magnified. The moon is too far away from the Earth. I haven’t bothered to calculate the angle subtended, but a distance of 238k miles, even at maximum angular separation, viewed from 898m miles would be very small separation.

      6. Thanks for validating my observation. It is still a beautiful picture. I was also thinking about calculating the angle but didn’t know where to start.

  2. The shiny object is actually a star – Earth is the pale dot right below it.

      1. nope, this is earth and the moon. cassini took this pic with saturn eclipsing the sun (if the sun were in the pic, it would have washed out most other objects). explanation from nasa, read the 1st paragraph

      1. Odd that non-point-source Earth has diffraction spikes like star (point sources) do. Why is that?

  3. There was a picture of Earth taking by the Martian rover curiosity justa while ago, and the pixaleted earth did’nt have besides it a “pixaleted ” moon. And the rover was much closer than Casini. (I mean the camera on rover and on Cassini).
    And here you can see it like it was a giant 1/3 ball around Earth.
    It is a magnified picture. But where is the real picture of earth and the other planets seen at the same time??

    would be great to have an answer!

  4. It might be easier to interpret this image if this story actually says which point is the Earth, instead of the vague “this is the Earth.” One might assume that the overexposed point in the middle is the Sun because it’s, well, not blue.

  5. Hmmmmm. Just swaging from memory but Titan (larger than our moon and more reflective) is 8th magnitude from here. Looking sunward from Saturn, the Earth moon system receives 100x more light, corresponding to 6 magnitudes increase in brightness. Given the moon’s lesser albedo than Titan I’d guess it as magnitude 8 minus 6 (100x solar flux) plus 1 or 2 (albedo/size loss), around 4th magnitude. While the bigger, more reflective earth would be 8 minus 6 minus 2 (size and albedo) or 0 magnitude. I’d love to see the real numbers.

  6. Dang it! I accounted for the speed of light and went out early. I was not informed that that was already taken into account. Can someone please photoshop me back into that?

  7. Kind of a disappointment after the two original “Pale Blue Dot” photos from Voyager and Cassini. The Earth is overexposed but the fact that the Moon is visible is cool though. I think it’d be interesting to see one where the Earth is still a “blue dot” juxtaposed with the white Moon. I wonder if it would be possible with the Cassini probe?

  8. Funny, 1st class on physics of this universe this knowledge made the “idea” of God seem less probable to me. life on earth, am insignificant accident,alone. i could deny Him no longer when i drew close, realized how very important each & every soul is to Him.

  9. The Sun would be much, MUCH brighter. It would overexpose the entire frame. It’s these times when Saturn is in front of the Sun that Cassini can even capture Earth on camera.

    1. That may be obvious to astronomy buffs who understand the capabilities of the Cassini cameras, but not to me.

    1. I created both color composites from raw images available on JPL’s Cassini mission site. If anyone did the same, they would end up with very similar results.

      1. Can you provide a tutorial on how to make a color composite for us proles? TIA

  10. cool, most likely I was looking at some billing records at the time, and complaining 🙂 LOL..

  11. It’s a bit of lens flare. Earth was bright in the narrow-angle camera… it even overexposed on the CCD a little.

  12. Long ago, a different picture of literary print, taken from somewhat different perspective – but still, I think, looking at the World of man as seen from deep space, saw Earth as a “mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam”: The wide “endless” Earth of ancient world, with its far horizons of land and sea, surrounded by seemly measureless oceans, under boundless skies: the Globe of Time, finely held in an ocean of Space:

    “Behold, the nations are like a drop in [ or a drop from ] a bucket, and are regarded as a speck of dust on a balance.” – Isa 40:15 (WEB).

    Take any familiar astronomical image: a rippling Nebular complex vast, or Supernova remnant expanding fast; an elegant Cluster of suns bright, or graceful stellar stream of night—project our Home Planet into any one of those huge celestial frames. And the weight of humanity’s haunting conceits, disappear in the “great enveloping cosmic dark.” All the nations of Earth ( and their myriad sleeping generations ), become less than a light-speck, seen in an evening’s Galactic arc. All their glory, vanishes in the glint of a dew drop, from country field of morning light.

    – On journey from Age of shadows, and its enclosed universe of limited understanding, man has made his hard ascent to the Science summit of expanded horizons: From its towering heights, he observes an insignificant Planet – lost in the enormity of Space.

    Some would contest, however, that it is “delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe”. With new(?) insights since those words were penned, man’s Home does, indeed, appear “privileged”, judged through measured sequence of concentric circles, scaled from Earth’s core to sister Moon; spanned from populous Galaxy Hub dense, to quieter Spiral Arms defuse. That’s no imagined “delusion”.

    Number sets appear to read orderly, precise alignments of energy-matter existence, striking fine balances in the Spacetime Continuum. An equation super-complex of expression, impossible in sum of terms, yet materialized to superbly turn – at just the right point in cosmic time – a World-Biosphere in seasons of Life.

    An intricate equation, multidimensional, that reads-out in Space: “The Living Planet”.

    [ Here, an unrecognizable point of light. ]

    – True enough, may be, there “is no hint [ detectable in the cold blackness beyond Earth’s skies ] that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves”. Yet, here on Terra Firma, under the silent stars, more than a hint may uncover.

    ( Voiced concerns over possible hostile aliens, suddenly appearing out of unknown the darkness, become childhood fright – in local planetary threat posed by man himself, in his stern face { s Mr. Sagan so well versed }. )

    – His statement of past years, holds just as true today for us to hear: The good Earth is still Mankind’s only Home, for foreseeable future. We cannot escape ourselves, in off-World flight (sigh). The Universe of Habitable Zone planets, and any hope of new world habitation, to us remains but a distant dream, envisioned through prisms of starlight.

Comments are closed.