NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has relayed back images of the Earth and moon from 900 million miles away. The images, taken in a series of photos on July 19th as Saturn was backlit by the sun, portray the blue planet as a diminutive blip in a vast dark solar system.
A the edge of Saturn’s rings, the vantage point of Cassini, perhaps more than any other, illustrates Carl Sagan’s notion of Earth as a pale blue dot. It is the third such image captured from the outer reaches of the interplanetary solar system as the first was captured 23 years ago by Voyager, a probe whose imagery initially inspired Sagan.
Due to the Earth’s close proximity to the sun, this series of images proved successful as Saturn was shielding the sun’s rays. The rings of Saturn were actually the primary focus of NASA’s imaging by Cassini as the agency is leveraging a variety of UV and infrared tools along with a mosaic of imagery.
“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,” wrote Linda Spiker in a press release on NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
One of the more interesting aspects of these images is that they are the first earth portraits with a social media component as NASA was encouraging viewers to create their own “wave at Saturn” photos and then upload them to a Flickr group and Facebook event page.
To view the portfolio of Cassini images as well as images from the Messenger spacecraft, visit NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab page. The composite of Cassini images of Saturn will be published in the coming weeks.