Stunning image of Saturn and Earth released

A mosaic of Saturn and Earth taken from the Cassini spacecraft.
A mosaic of Saturn and Earth taken from the Cassini spacecraft. NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI

TORONTO – On Tuesday, NASA released a magnificent, sweeping image of Saturn and Earth – as well as Venus and Mars.

It is the first natural-colour image taken by the Cassini spacecraft which has been orbiting Saturn since 2004.

On July 19, NASA held a worldwide event called “Wave at Saturn”, asking people from around the world to photograph themselves waving at the ringed planet as the Cassini spacecraft turned its cameras toward Earth.

Most of Canada was facing the camera at the time.

A detailed image of Saturn, Earth, Mars and Venus. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI)
A detailed image of Saturn, Earth, Mars and Venus. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI). NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI

Don’t expect a detailed image of Earth, though: at the time the images were taken, Cassini was 1.445858 billion kilometres from Earth.

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Normally, Cassini doesn’t attempt to image Earth because of our close proximity to the sun. However, the Cassini team found a time when the sun would be hidden behind Saturn from Cassini’s point of view, which occurred on July 19.

It took NASA scientists four months to put the mosaic together because they had to sift through 323 images that were taken in just four hours. They used 141 of those images which span 651,591 km.

The image also captures Saturn’s intricate ring system as well as its moons.

“In this one magnificent view, Cassini has delivered to us a universe of marvels,” said Carolyn Porco, Cassini’s imaging team lead at the Space Science Institute in a press release. “And it did so on a day people all over the world, in unison, smiled in celebration at the sheer joy of being alive on a pale blue dot.”

This isn’t exactly what you’d see if you were standing on Cassini, though. NASA brightened the planets and moons by a factor of eight and a half relative to Saturn in order to make the tiny dots stand out against the background. The stars were also brightened by a factor of four.

Cassini was 1.2 million km from Saturn when the images were taken.

For a more detailed image, click here.