Cassini photo puts Earth in perspective

Probe captures planet from 1.4 billion kilometers away

NASA, JPL-Caltech, Space Science Institute

It’s more of a bright blue blotch than a pale blue dot, but Earth still looks awfully insignificant in this July 19 photograph. It was taken by NASA’s Cassini probe, which is more than 1.4 billion kilometers away in orbit around Saturn.

Earth is just right of center in the photo, while the moon is barely visible as a protrusion off Earth’s right side. Saturn dominates the upper left of the image and the planet’s rings are brightly illuminated.

Twenty-three years ago, unbeknownst to all but a handful of Earthlings, the NASA probe Voyager 1 took the famous Pale Blue Dot portrait of Earth, showing it as a tiny speck in the vastness of space. This time, there was advance warning. Carolyn Porco, who was on the Voyager team and now leads Cassini’s imaging efforts, announced the new photo shoot in June.  

The Cassini probe has been exploring Saturn and its moons since 2004. The new image is one tile of a 33-tile mosaic that will include Saturn and its entire ring system. The full portrait is expected in several weeks.

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