Saturn And Earth Pose Together In New Cassini Image
November 12, 2013

New Cassini Image Shows Saturn And Earth

Lee Rannals for - Your Universe Online

NASA has released a new image taken by its Cassini spacecraft that shows off features of Saturn with Earth in the background.

The new image, consisting of 141 wide-angle images, shows the view of Saturn as it would be seen by human eyes. The image sweeps 404,880 miles across Saturn and its inner ring system, showing the planet’s moons and rings, Earth, Venus and Mars.

"In this one magnificent view, Cassini has delivered to us a universe of marvels," Carolyn Porco, Cassini's imaging team lead at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colorado, said in a recent statement. "And it did so on a day people all over the world, in unison, smiled in celebration at the sheer joy of being alive on a pale blue dot."

The photo is part of the “Wave at Saturn” campaign NASA launched back on July 19 when the space agency warned the public that Cassini would be shooting an image of Earth from Saturn. During this event, NASA invited the public to step outside, find Saturn in their part of the sky, then wave at the ringed planet and share pictures over the Internet while Cassini snapped images.

Cassini has not taken many images with Earth in the background because the Sun is often so close to our planet that an unobstructed view would damage the spacecraft’s detectors. The July 19 opportunity offered up great conditions for Cassini because the sun slipped behind Saturn enabling the spacecraft to take a photo of Earth without hurting any of its instruments.

"With a long, intricate dance around the Saturn system, Cassini aims to study the Saturn system from as many angles as possible," said Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist based at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. "Beyond showing us the beauty of the Ringed Planet, data like these also improve our understanding of the history of the faint rings around Saturn and the way disks around planets form -- clues to how our own solar system formed around the sun."

In the image, the E ring shows up like a halo around Saturn and the inner rings. The ring is best seen with light shining from behind it, during which tiny particles become outlined because of diffraction.

“This mosaic provides a remarkable amount of high-quality data on Saturn’s diffuse rings, revealing all sorts of intriguing structures we are currently trying to understand," said Matt Hedman, a Cassini participating scientist at the University of Idaho in Moscow. "The E ring in particular shows patterns that likely reflect disturbances from such diverse sources as sunlight and Enceladus’ gravity.”