Humbling Views of Earth from Distant Spacecraft

This wide-angle image from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft captured Saturn’s rings and our planet Earth and its moon (arrow) in the same frame on July 19, 2013. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

The solar system just got a bit smaller thanks to two awe-inspiring portraits of Earth and the moon taken from nearly the opposite sides of the solar system.

On Friday July 19th, Earth got a great two for one deal. Both NASA’s Cassini spacecraft at Saturn, nearly 900 million miles (1.5 billion kilometers) away, and the MESSENGER probe, orbiting Mercury 61 million miles (98 million kilometers) away captured a tiny pixelated image of Earth and the moon. (Related: Earth Photobombs Saturn Shot.)

Positioned on the far-side of Saturn, Cassini’s highest resolution cameras were able to convey Earth as a pale blue dot and the white moon between Saturn’s rings.

“Cassini’s picture reminds us how tiny our home planet is in the vastness of space, and also testifies to the ingenuity of the citizens of this tiny planet to send a robotic spacecraft so far away from home to study Saturn and take a look-back photo of Earth,”  said Linda Spilker, Cassini’s project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California in a press statement.

The Mercury orbiter also caught an even tinier, black and white glimpse of Earth and the moon – both less than a pixel in size.

The pair of bright star-like features in the right panel are Earth and moon as it appeared to MESSENGER's camera. The computer-generated image on the right shows how the Earth appeared from Mercury at the time.  Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington
The pair of bright star-like features in the right panel are Earth and moon as it appeared to MESSENGER’s camera. The computer-generated image on the left shows how the Earth appeared from Mercury at the time. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington

“That images of our planet have been acquired on a single day from two distant solar system outposts reminds us of this nation’s stunning technical accomplishments in planetary exploration,” said Sean Solomon, MESSENGER Principal Investigator in a press statement.

“And because Mercury and Saturn are such different outcomes of planetary formation and evolution, these two images also highlight what is special about Earth. There’s no place like home.”

View more stunning NASA images of Earth here.

 

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Changing Planet

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.