Changing Planet

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.


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



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.
  • craig hill

    Yes, humans have a sense of awe for what to us is great distances because we don’t experience them daily or often.

    The article is a commentary on humans, how we think and why, and nothing else.

  • Silentsister

    if there really is no place like home couldn’t we learn to treat its inhabitants a little bit better instead of seeking more more MORE on the outside until there’s no home left?

  • arfkay

    Just goes to show how insignificant we are in the scheme of things. A dot in the sky. And we think were really important? I wonder how many beings on other planets feel the same way?

  • fernandez

    wow! wish somday a human being that being a man or a woman can actually take a picture of earth from saturn or even further away. maybe someday humans can go interstellar travelers
    and visit other earth like planets. just a dream and a thought but
    but hope that does happen soon. latinos, whites, asians, europeans, indians, jewish, arabs and ogher races come together and make this all happen. just a thought and a dream.

  • todd gillespie

    where is the north pole ice???

  • primate17579

    Spot on silentsister! I think we are losing the race between whether or not we all will come to realize the fate we are forcing upon our selves, and the importance of understanding that our growth and evolving must benefit our home not poison and burden it.

  • Mohan Varadaraju

    The problem is even though we know we are insignificant in this cosmos and inspite of so many technical advancement we failed to understand the other human mind. This is really so sad but at the same time we are making progress in many ways. If we can stop the wars between the nation’s then that will be greatest human achievement.

  • Vania

    Our earth is so beautiful and perfect from a distance. Its sad that on it there is a lack of peace and appreciation for our beautiful home and inhabitants. Regardless, I’m going to try harder to take care of the earth, my family and help others to appreciate how blessed we truly are. Thanks for the article and beautiful photos.

  • Meaghan

    A pale blue dot. A mote of dust, suspended in a sunbeam.

  • Andrew Booth

    That’s a beautiful lead photograph from Cassini.

  • Anton Fran Camaj

    witch one of these pixels are we killing each other for?

  • Tim Parker

    Makes me fell claustrophobic.

  • C.K.Prakashan

    A spectacular image indeed. A chance for think where we are living. And which power hold us to prevent from droping. Realy we can hope some where in the universe somebody are living like us. Who can get the opportunity to hear this news and when?


    this universe we are part of is tooooo big for me to comprehend, I will leave it to the astrophysicists

  • Zel Melvins

    *Looking at the first picture*
    So can you imagine that ‘God’ would create that little dot and then end it all just for one sole life form that doesn’t even take its home dot seriously or treat it with respect?

  • Nancy

    Amazingly Earth and its moon are bright even in “space.” You could pick them out for reference. I wonder just how strong the green areas are on earth.

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