How Cool! NASA Releases Photos Of Earth Taken From Saturn, Mercury

Earth is the blue dot in this wide image taken by the Cassini spacecraft at Saturn on July 19, 2013 from a distance of 898 million miles (1.44 billion km). The dark side of Saturn, its bright limb, the main rings, the F ring, and the G and E rings are clearly seen; the limb of Saturn and the F ring are overexposed. Click for larger version. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

There are really awesome. Even better than I had imagined. Earth and moon may only cover a pixel or two but the perspective with Saturn’s rings is spectacular. And to think we were all there the moment Cassini snapped the shutter. Great stuff!

This image of Earth and the moon was taken by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft on July 19, 2013. Click to enlarge. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Pictures of Earth from space probes in the outer solar system are rare because our planet always appears close to the sun from their perspective. Just like staring at the sun can damage your retina, a camera’s sensitive light detectors can be damaged if pointed at the sun. Here Cassini used the planet to block the sun from view much like using your hand to do the same.

Another view of the blue Earth and moon taken by Cassini on July 19. Hope you were waving! Click for larger version. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

The main image is only one frame of a much larger mosaic of 33 photos covering the entire ring system and globe of Saturn. Each photo or “footprint” was taken through different color filters for a total of 323 images. Some were taken for scientific purposes and some to produce a natural color mosaic, according to a NASA press release. This is the only wide-angle footprint that has the Earth-moon system in it.

Earth and moon look like a double star in the top photo taken at 6:54 a.m. CDT on July 19, 2013 from Mercury by the MESSENGER spacecraft. The illustration of Earth shows how our planet appeared at the time the photo was shot. A day later on July the probe shot another picture of the Earth-moon system (lower center) to commemorate  the 44th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. Landing sites of all the Apollos are shown at right. Click to enlarge. Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/Carnegie Institution of Washington

Meanwhile, the Mercury MESSENGER probe was busy making pictures of our pretty planet of its own. Earth and moon have short tails in the images because the spacecraft was conducting a search for possible faint moons of Mercury at the time. The longer exposures required to reveal faint objects overexposed the Earth-moon images.

I think you’ll agree, both sets of pictures make you stop and think about where we are and where it’s all going. Click HERE to see more pix from Saturn and HERE for more on Mercury.


11 Responses

  1. Edward M. Boll

    I thought that a picture of Earth from Saturn would be too close to the Sun’s glare. It is after all nearly 10 times closer to the Sun than the ringed planet. Mercury is hard for us to see, most of the time, nearly 3 times closer to the Sun than we are.

    1. astrobob

      The critical difference between seeing Mercury close to the sun and Earth perhaps even closer as viewed from Saturn is no atmosphere to scatter light and create glare.

  2. Edward M. Boll

    NASA reports from behavior of Comet ISON oin June 13 to be possible strong carbon dioxide emissions. The reported dust tail length than was thought to be around 186,000 miles.

  3. caralex

    Bob, I imagined that the photo from Messenger would be slightly more ‘detailed’, being nearer to Earth. Why does Earth look equally small from both spacecraft?

    1. astrobob

      Excellent question Carol. My hunch is that the wide-angle camera used for the survey of possible faint moons didn’t have the resolution to image Earth as a disk. MESSENGER also has a narrow-angle, high-resolution camera that would have provided higher resolution, but it was not used. Here’s a link with more on MESSENGER’s cameras:

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