NASA revealed pictures of Earth taken July 19 by spacecrafts in Saturn and Mercury, where Earth looks like a bright mere dot in the immensity of space.
It really is a humbling feeling when you view the recent pictures of Earth taken July 19 by spacecrafts in Saturn and around Mercury. Earth, which appears so huge to us, is seen as a mere speck in the vast Universe.
A set of colored pictures were taken by NASA's Cassini spacecraft from Saturn at a distance of nearly 900 million miles (1.5 billion kilometers) from Earth and another black and white picture was taken by MESSENGER, the first probe to orbit Mercury at a distance of 61 million miles (98 million kilometers).
It is the first time Earth and the moon have been photographed as two distinct objects though both appear as mere dots. The Earth appears as a pale blue dot while the moon appears as a stark white one.
"We can't see individual continents or people in this portrait of Earth, but this pale blue dot is a succinct summary of who we were on July 19," said Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist, at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif in a press release. "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."
Generally, it is very difficult to take pictures of Earth from the outer solar system because of the planet's close proximity with the Sun. Any camera turned in the direction of the sun faces the possibility of getting damaged. However, on this occasion it was possible because the Sun had moved behind Saturn for a while and the planet blocked most of the sun's light.
Earlier last week, NASA encouraged people to go out and look in the direction of Saturn and wave. They were asked to take pictures of themselves doing so and share them on the Internet. NASA revealed that over 20,000 people around the world participated.
"It thrills me to no end that people all over the world took a break from their normal activities to go outside and celebrate the interplanetary salute between robot and maker that these images represent," said Carolyn Porco, Cassini imaging team lead at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colo. "The whole event underscores for me our 'coming of age' as planetary explorers."
In the pictures taken by MESSENGER, Earth and the moon are overexposed, because of which they look bigger, when actually they are only approximately 1 pixel each.
"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 MESSENGER principal investigator Sean Solomon of Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in Palisades, N.Y. "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."
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