Thursday, November 14, 2013

Cassini Amazes

The Day The Earth Smiled photography as fully assembled.  This is not a photo-shopped image.  All the colors are natural and reveal the beauty of our neighbor in the Solar System.  Taken July 19, 2013 and released to the public earlier this week.  The original image is much larger than this reduction.  
My continuing interest in the Cassini spacecraft mission got a shot in the arm earlier this week.  Back in the summer Cassini performed a maneuver to photograph the far side of Saturn looking back toward Earth.  Initially, the resulting photos were only fragments released to the public.  Now, after months additional work, the wide natural-color vista of Saturn was released for the first time.  The results are stunning.

Cassini took a series of 141 images from a distance of about 750,000 miles from Saturn (three times the distance of the Earth from the Moon).  The span of view is some 404,000 miles across looking back into infinite space.  The Earth was about 900,000,000 miles away as this mosaic was captured. It was all the result of a rare opportunity for Cassini to photograph during a total eclipse of the Sun by Saturn.

The gorgeous stitched photograph features over a dozen celestial objects, including many of Saturn's smaller moons, as well as Mars, Venus, and our our own "pale blue dot."  The resulting image is a HUGE 9000 x 3500 pixels in size.  Viewing it fills me with wonder.

This enhancement depicts the actual position of the Earth at the time Cassini snapped a photo of us. Notice that North America was fully visible at the time.  If you look carefully at the image on the right you will notice two dots, a brighter blue one and a fainter one just inside the box.  The fainter object is our Moon.  So that little space between the two is roughly 240,000 miles as seen from a distance of 900 million miles.
This is the result of The Day The Earth Smiled project, a fun endeavor which prompted thousands of human beings to pause this past July 19, wave and smile, in the general direction of Saturn about the time Cassini performed its maneuver.  Since it was impossible for the probe to actually photograph us as individuals this is a rare moment for science to become playful along with the serious intent of the project.

And this was historic.  This marks only the third time the Earth has been photographed from beyond the asteroid belt.  Amazing panoramic stuff.
Some of the thousands of folks that took a moment to pause and wave at Cassini - somewhere out there in the general direction of Saturn, which was not visible at the time due to the bright sunshine lighting up all those smiles this past July.
Late Note: After making this post I found this article.  Turns out that today, by coincidence, is the 50th anniversary of the first footage ever shot from space.  Cool.

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