The planet Saturn, observed by the Cassini space probe in 2013. (NASA)
The planet Saturn, observed by the Cassini space probe in 2013. (NASA)
The rings ofhave puzzled astronomers since Galileo Galilei discovered them with his telescope in 1610.
They’re incredibly thin. The main rings are generally only about 30 feet (10 meters) thick, though parts of the main and other rings can be several kilometers thick. The rings are made of dusty ice, in the form of boulder-sized and smaller chunks that gently collide with each other as they orbit around Saturn. Saturn’s gravitational field constantly disrupts these ice chunks, keeping them spread out and preventing them from combining to form a moon.
(Video credit: NASA)
In this rare image taken on July 19, 2013, the wide-angle camera on NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has captured Saturn’s rings and our planet Earth and its moon in the same frame. It is only one footprint in a mosaic of 33 footprints covering the entire Saturn ring system (including Saturn itself). At each footprint, images were taken in different spectral filters for a total of 323 images: some were taken for scientific purposes and some to produce a natural color mosaic. This is the only wide-angle footprint that has the Earth-moon system in it.
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. The “breaks” in the brightness of Saturn’s limb are due to the shadows of the rings on the globe of Saturn, preventing sunlight from shining through the atmosphere in those regions. The E and G rings have been brightened for better visibility.
Earth, which is 898 million miles (1.44 billion kilometers) away in this image, appears as a blue dot at center right; the moon can be seen as a fainter protrusion off its right side. An arrow indicates their location in the annotated version. (The two are clearly seen as separate objects in the accompanying narrow angle frame: PIA14949.) The other bright dots nearby are stars.
This is only the third time ever that Earth has been imaged from the outer solar system. The acquisition of this image, along with the accompanying composite narrow- and wide-angle image of Earth and the moon and the full mosaic from which both are taken, marked the first time that inhabitants of Earth knew in advance that their planet was being imaged. That opportunity allowed people around the world to join together in social events to celebrate the occasion.
Looking in the mirror from 898,410,414 miles away…
From out there, we look like stars.
Just a tip, NASA: We’re gonna have to give it a better name than “N00213959.jpg”. Maybe “Pale Blue Sparkle”?
(hi-res at NASA website, a more processed version is sure to come… stay tuned)
On July 19, 2013, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft will be turned to image Saturn and its entire ring system during a total eclipse of the sun, as it has done twice before during its previous 9 years in orbit. But this time will be very different. This time, the images to be collected will capture, in natural color, a glimpse of our own planet next to Saturn and its rings on a day that will be the first time Earthlings know in advance their picture will be taken from a billion miles away. A full end-to-end mosaic of images of the ring system will be acquired over 4 hours on July 19. The Earth will be captured in a series of images taken between 21:27 to 21:42 UTC on that day, or 14:27 and 14:42 Pacific Daylight Time.
It will be a day for people all over the globe to celebrate together the extraordinary achievements that have made such an interplanetary photo session possible. And it will be a day to celebrate life on the Pale Blue Dot. Read the press release via CICLOPS.ORG.
The graphics shown below illustrate the position of our planet relative to Saturn, and the portion of Earth that will be illuminated at the time its pictures are captured.
Illuminated View: This graphic shows the view of Earth and the portion of its surface that will be illuminated during the Earth imaging event on July 19, 2013.
Taking Earth’s Picture from Nearly 900 Million Miles Away: This simulated view from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft on July 19, 2013, shows the expected positions of Saturn and Earth around the time Cassini is taking Earth’s picture.
Carolyn Porco: Could a Saturn moon harbor life? | TED
Planetary scientist Carolyn Porco studies and interprets the photos from the Cassini-Huygens mission, orbiting Saturn and its largest moon, Titan. She and a team of scientists from NASA and the European Space Agency have been analyzing the images that Cassini has been sending back since it left Earth in 1999. They’ve found many new rings and four new moons (so far). And they’ve produced breathtaking images and animations of the stormy face of Saturn, its busy rings, and its jumble of moons and moonlets.
Back in the mid-1980s, while still working on her doctorate, Porco was drafted onto a team at JPL that was crunching the mountains of data coming back from the Voyager fly-by of Saturn. Her work on the planet’s “ringlets,” and on a spoke pattern noticed in the rings, made an important connection between Saturn’s rings and its magnetic field — and cemented her connection with Saturn.
Her ongoing work at the Cassini Imaging Central Laboratory for Operations (CICLOPs) has two goals: to process and interpret the Cassini images for other scientists, and to make sure the images — in all their breathtaking poetry and mystery and sheer Save-Image-As-Desktop awesomeness — connect with the general public. She is an advocate for the exploration and understanding of planetary space, and her frequent talks (as well as her “Captain’s Log” memos on the CICLOPS website) speak to everyone, scientist and nonscientist alike.
Still Curious? Watch Carolyn again, this time, LEGO-fied! and watch a conversation with Carolyn, as she discusses the Saturn and Cassini Mission with astrophysicist and curator, Mike Shara of the American Museum of Natural History during the 217th American Astronomical Society meeting in Seattle, Washington
“Imagine the day when we might journey to the Saturnine system, and visit the Enceladus interplanetary geyser park, just because we can.”
I love this woman.
You guys like Saturn, right? Here’s a whole gallery of Saturn GIFs, from rings to moons, captured by the Cassini spacecraft. They’re part modern art and part science.
Next to the Voyager twins, I think Cassini might be the best satellite NASA ever launched. Certainly takes the best pictures. Tumblr’s own staceythinx has an iPad app called Cassini HD that features even more photos, plus color, plus science.
did anyone see Saturn last night? it was raining here but it’s sunny now; hopefully it stays clear until dark so I can see it! I’ve never seen Saturn before!
December 20, 2012 — The spacecraft has delivered another glorious backlit view of Saturn and its rings.
NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, in orbit around Saturn for more than eight years, has delivered another glorious backlit view of the planet Saturn and its rings.
On October 17, 2012, during its 174th orbit around the gas giant, Cassini was deliberately positioned within Saturn’s shadow, a perfect location from which to look in the direction of the Sun and take a backlit view of the rings and the dark side of the planet. Looking back toward the Sun is a geometry referred to by planetary scientists as “high solar phase” — near the center of the target’s shadow is the highest phase possible. This is a scientifically advantageous and coveted viewing position as it can reveal details about both the rings and atmosphere that cannot be seen in lower solar phase.
The last time Cassini had such an unusual perspective on Saturn and its rings, at sufficient distance and with sufficient time to make a full system mosaic, occurred in September 2006 when it captured a mosaic, processed to look like natural color, entitled “In Saturn’s Shadow-The Pale Blue Dot.” In that mosaic, planet Earth put in a special appearance, making “In Saturn’s Shadow” one of the most popular Cassini images to date.
The mosaic being released today by the mission and the imaging team does not contain Earth — along with the Sun, our planet is hidden behind Saturn. However, it was taken when Cassini was closer to Saturn and therefore shows more detail in the rings than the one taken in 2006.
“Of all the many glorious images we have received from Saturn, none are more strikingly unusual than those taken from Saturn’s shadow,” said Carolyn Porco, Cassini’s imaging team lead based at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colorado. “They unveil a rare splendor seldom seen anywhere else in our solar system.”
This image from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft shows a vast river system on Saturn’s moon Titan. It is the first time images from space have revealed a river system so vast and in such high resolution anywhere other than Earth.