On Friday, Earth Photobombs Saturn Shot

saturn-cassini-artist
The Cassini orbiter, shown here in an artist’s illustration, will image both Saturn and Earth this week. Credit: NASA

Prepare to have your picture taken from nearly a billion miles away. 

On Friday, July 19, the Cassini spacecraft currently orbiting Saturn will look back towards the sun and take a cosmic family portrait of the back-lit ringed world with distant Earth beside it. (Get Time of Event from Around the World.) The event is slated to take place starting at 5:27 p.m. EDT and will end 15 minutes later.

While Earth will only take up a pixel or two on the cosmic family portrait, the public is being invited to commemorate this historic event by looking up at the sky and waving at Saturn.

Saturn will appear to be eclipsing the sun from the Cassini orbiter’s vantage point, whereas the Earth will appear simply as a tiny pale blue dot. North America and parts of the Atlantic Ocean will be sunlit at the time of the interplanetary photoshoot.

This simulated view from NASA's Cassini spacecraft shows the expected positions of Saturn and Earth on July 19, 2013, around the time Cassini will take Earth's picture. Cassini will be about 898 million miles (1.44 billion kilometers) away from Earth at the time. That distance is nearly 10 times the distance from the sun to Earth. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
This simulated view from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft shows the expected positions of Saturn and Earth on July 19, 2013, around the time Cassini will take Earth’s picture. Cassini will be about 898 million miles (1.44 billion kilometers) away from Earth at the time. That distance is nearly 10 times the distance from the sun to Earth. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The NASA probe’s unique vantage point on the far side of Saturn will also highlight the tiniest of ring particles and will allow scientists to see patterns within Saturn’s dusty rings that are otherwise invisible. (Related: “Saturn Rings Surprisingly Unstable, Violent.”)

Since its arrival at Saturn in 2004, Cassini has taken Earth’s portrait twice before. However, this is the first time Earthlings will know in advance that their photo is being taken. It will also be the first photograph that captures Earth and its moon in natural colors thanks to Cassini’s highest-resolution camera.

Not to be outdone, mission managers of the NASA Mercury orbiter MESSENGER, have discovered that Earth will also appear in a set of images that are being snapped by the orbiter while it searches for possible moons around the innermost planet.

Those images will be taken at 7:49 a.m., 8:38 a.m. and 9:41 a.m. EDT on July 19 and July 20. NASA says that parts of the Earth not illuminated in the Cassini images, including all of Europe, the Middle East and Central Asia, will appear illuminated in the MESSENGER images.

Details on how to find Saturn in the sky and participate in the event are here.

 

Follow Andrew Fazekas, the Night Sky Guy, on Twitter and Facebook.

 

Uncategorized

, , , ,

Andrew Fazekas, aka The Night Sky Guy, is a science writer, broadcaster, and lecturer who loves to share his passion for the wonders of the universe through all media. He is a regular contributor to National Geographic News and is the national cosmic correspondent for Canada’s Weather Network TV channel, space columnist for CBC Radio network, and a consultant for the Canadian Space Agency. As a member of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Andrew has been observing the heavens from Montreal for over a quarter century and has never met a clear night sky he didn’t like.