On July 19, Smile and Wave at Saturn
…because Cassini will be watching — and taking pictures!
In three weeks, on Friday, July 19, the Cassini spacecraft will be taking pictures from orbit around Saturn, capturing the ringed planet in eclipse against the Sun. This will not only provide fantastic views of the planet’s rings and atmosphere, but will also include another treat: our planet Earth, visible as a small blue dot in the distance!
In effect, this will be the very first time in history that the entire world will know it’s being photographed from 900 million miles away. (So be sure to look your best!)
Cassini has acquired similar views of Saturn a couple of times before — the last time in September 2006 — but this will be the first time the human population has been duly notified well beforehand.
“Ever since we caught sight of the Earth among the rings of Saturn in September 2006 in a mosaic that has become one of Cassini’s most beloved images, I have wanted to do it all over again, only better,” said Cassini imaging team leader, Carolyn Porco. ”And this time, I wanted to turn the entire event into an opportunity for everyone around the globe, at the same time, to savor the uniqueness of our beautiful blue-ocean planet and the preciousness of the life on it.”
Porco was involved in co-initiating and executing the famous “Pale Blue Dot” image of Earth taken by NASA’s Voyager 1 from beyond the orbit of Neptune in 1990.
“It will be a day for all the world to celebrate,” she said.
According to the NASA/JPL Cassini site:
Cassini will start obtaining the Earth part of the mosaic at 2:27 p.m. PDT* (5:27 p.m. EDT or 21:27 UTC) 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.
Unlike two previous Cassini eclipse mosaics of the Saturn system in 2006, which captured Earth, and another in 2012, the July 19 image will be the first to capture the Saturn system with Earth in natural color, as human eyes would see it. It also will be the first to capture Earth and its moon with Cassini’s highest-resolution camera. The probe’s position will allow it to turn its cameras in the direction of the sun, where Earth will be, without damaging the spacecraft’s sensitive detectors.
So on July 19, be sure to give a nice big smile and take a moment to wave up at Cassini, orbiting Saturn nearly a billion miles away!
“I hope, at the appropriate time, regardless where or on which side of the planet you are, that you stop what you’re doing, go outside, gather together with friends and family, contemplate the utter isolation of our world in the never-ending blackness of space, relish its lush, life-sustaining beauty, appreciate the rarity it is among the Sun’s planets, and marvel at your own existence and that of all life on planet Earth.”
– Carolyn Porco, Cassini Imaging Team Director
Read more on my article on Universe Today here.
P.S. Do you want to get a personalized NASA certificate (like the one below) saying that you “Waved at Saturn?” Click here.
*Ok, technically the time that Cassini will be acquiring images is different than the actual “waving” time. This is due to the length of time it takes for light to actually travel from Earth to Saturn and thus into Cassini’s cameras. So to make sure Cassini doesn’t catch us all with our eyes closed, mission engineers did the math.