Very few images can summarize the entirety of our planet’s existence better than a photo from a spacecraft orbiting another planet nearly 900 million miles away. But that’s exactly what NASA’s Cassini Solstice mission did on Friday — now the first raw images of this interplanetary photobombing effort have been released.
The first “Pale Blue Dot” photograph, of course, came courtesy of Voyager 1 at the suggestion of Carl Sagan in 1990. As the probe was 3.7 billion miles away, 13 years into its solar system odyssey, the probe turned its camera to Earth. That moment was as historic as it was profound. For the first time we could see Earth as a pale blue dot — a mere speck in Voyager’s field of view. As Sagan put it in his famous Cosmos episode, everything we’ve ever known is “on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.”
But now, as we see more robotic missions exploring the solar system, an increasing number of Pale Blue Dot photographs are becoming available. But they are no less profound than Sagan’s original Voyager observation.
So, on Friday, NASA’s Cassini mission team commanded the probe to begin taking a series of photos from Saturn. The best thing about this feat was that the citizens of Earth were notified ahead of time and invited to “Wave at Saturn” at the time of the photo op. The result was the biggest portrait ever taken.
As an added bonus, NASA’s MESSENGER probe that’s currently in orbit around Mercury was also taking snapshots of Earth — the result was two robotic probes taking our portrait from opposite ends of the solar system.
Ahead of the fully-processed Cassini photo of Earth hanging in the background of Saturn’s majestic rings (that will likely be released in the coming weeks), some of the raw imagery has been processed by Discovery News and Universe Today blogger Jason Major. The first shows Earth as a bright dot below Saturn’s rings (shown top) and the second shows a star-like Earth with the moon in tow (pictured right). Read Jason’s blog on Universe Today to find out more about the raw images.
The original Pale Blue Dot image inspired Sagan to communicate mankind’s place in the Universe, but he also emphasized a need for our species to move beyond the confines of that tiny speck of dust. That’s a message that is just as applicable today as we see robotic missions explore the mysteries of the solar system, yet we remain behind not wanting to leave the comfort of home. But who knows? The next profound moment may come in the coming decades when an astronaut, on Mars, snaps a photo of Earth from the red planet’s surface. Then mankind would have inhabited two pale dots — one blue and one red.
Image credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute. Composites by Jason Major.