Say cheese! Cassini prepares to photograph the Earth from Saturn

18 Jul 2013

Cassini spacecraft near Saturn. Image via Elenarts/Shutterstock - elements of this image furnished by NASA

Whatever you get up to this Friday night, know this: your photograph will be taken from more than a billion kilometres away. For the first time ever, the people of Earth know in advance when NASA’s Cassini spacecraft will be taking their picture, and plans are in place to document the occasion accordingly.

On Friday 19 July, between 10.27pm and 10.42pm IST, Cassini will photograph the Earth from its orbit around Saturn. It’s estimated that the spacecraft will be about 1.44bn km away from its home planet when the picture is taken and, while the Earth will just be 1.5 pixels wide in the resulting image, that hasn’t deterred stargazers from their plans to wave at Saturn during the celestial photoshoot.

The sun will illuminate North America and parts of the Atlantic Ocean at the time the photograph will be taken, while Africa and Europe, although facing Cassini’s cameras, will be in darkness.

Cassini was launched in 1997 and has been in orbit around Saturn since July 2004. Though it has photographed the Earth twice in this time, this is the first time Earthlings have known about it in advance.

Wave at Saturn

Amateur astronomer and member of the Cassini education and public outreach team Jane Houston Jones is encouraging skywatchers to share photos of themselves giving the ringed planet a wave on the Wave at Saturn Flickr account and Facebook page.

Astronomers Without Borders wants people’s photos of Saturn from Friday night or any time of the year, which will be used to recreate the image produced by Cassini in mosaic form.

And in Ireland, CIT Blackrock Castle Observatory is pivoting the event as part of its Gathering the Gathering project, which will see an array of photo and video messages from Earth beamed into space on New Year’s Eve 2013 and stored in a digital time capsule for a decade.

The joint project between the observatory and Cork Institute of Technology is encouraging participants to take Friday’s photo opportunity as a chance to take their own snapshot capturing something important to them and to upload that online.

Cassini and Saturn image by Elenarts via Shutterstock

Elaine Burke is the host of For Tech’s Sake, a co-production from Silicon Republic and The HeadStuff Podcast Network. She was previously the editor of Silicon Republic.