Cassini spacecraft captures shots of Earth and moon from Saturn (photos)

23 Jul 2013

The cameras on NASA's Cassini spacecraft captured this rare look at Earth and its moon from Saturn orbit on 19 July. Image via NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

US space agency NASA has released images of Earth and its moon as photographed from Saturn on 19 July by its Cassini spacecraft.

While people waving at the planet were far too tiny to differentiate from Cassini’s position in the Saturn system nearly 1.5bn kilometres away (some 900m miles) from terra firma, the resulting images reveal Earth as a tiny bright blue dot.

Another image shows Saturn’s rings dramatically sweeping across the image, with the Earth’s moon as a stark white dot, visible between the planet’s rings.

The ‘photoshoot’ marked the first time Cassini‘s highest-resolution camera captured Earth and its moon as two distinct objects.

“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 Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist, at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

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.”

Pictures of Earth from the outer solar system are rare because from that distance, Earth appears very close to our sun, and the sensitive detectors in a camera can be damaged by looking directly at the sun, NASA said.

Cassini was able to take the images because the sun had temporarily moved behind Saturn from the spacecraft’s point of view and most of the light was blocked.

A wide-angle image of Earth will become part of a multi-image picture, or mosaic, of Saturn’s rings, which scientists are assembling, said NASA.

Cassini shot of Earth and moon

The wide-angle camera on NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has captured Saturn’s rings and our planet Earth (above arrow) and its moon in the same frame. Image via NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Tina Costanza was a journalist and sub-editor at Silicon Republic