June 18th, 2013 by James Ayre
What does the Earth look like from deep space? From Saturn? On July 19th NASA’s Cassini spacecraft will be taking the first-ever natural-color image of the Earth as seen from the Saturn system. This will also be the first time that Cassini’s highest-resolution camera was used to photograph the Earth and the Moon.
According to NASA researchers, in the image the Earth will very-likely look like a small, pale blue dot — visible just in between the rings of Saturn. The upcoming opportunity is the result of the rather uncommon situation that the Cassini probe will be in at the time. The probe’s position will “allow it to turn its cameras in the direction of the sun, where the Earth will be, without damaging the spacecraft’s sensitive detectors.”
“While (the) Earth will be only about a pixel in size from Cassini’s vantage point 898 million away, the 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 in Pasadena, Calif. “We hope you’ll join us in waving at Saturn from Earth, so we can commemorate this special opportunity.”
The Cassini probe will start obtaining “the Earth part of the mosaic at 2:27 pm PDT and end about 15 minutes later, all while Saturn is eclipsing the sun from Cassini’s point of view. The spacecraft’s unique vantage point in Saturn’s shadow will provide a special scientific opportunity to look at the planet’s rings. At the time of the photo, North America and part of the Atlantic Ocean will be in sunlight.”
The July 19th date was chosen by the researchers after examining “Cassini’s planned flight path for the remainder of its Saturn mission in search of a time when Earth would not be obstructed by Saturn or its rings. Working with other Cassini team members, they found the July 19 opportunity would permit the spacecraft to spend time in Saturn’s shadow to duplicate the views from earlier in the mission to collect both visible and infrared imagery of the planet and its ring system.”
“Looking back towards the sun through the rings highlights the tiniest of ring particles, whose width is comparable to the thickness of hair and which are difficult to see from ground-based telescopes,” said Matt Hedman, a Cassini science team member based at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., and a member of the rings working group. “We’re particularly interested in seeing the structures within Saturn’s dusty E ring, which is sculpted by the activity of the geysers on the moon Enceladus, Saturn’s magnetic field and even solar radiation pressure.”
With the upcoming photo of the Earth as seen from the Saturn system in mind, here are the two most famous images of the Earth as seen from space:
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