Earth and Saturn appeared together in an evocative photo released yesterday by NASA/JPL. The highly anticipated picture by the Cassini spacecraft was snapped on July 19.
It represents an extremely rare shot of Earth and Saturn in the same frame, made possible by Cassini’s wide-angle camera lens. The moon is also in the shot, but you really have to squint to see it.
But I think you can understand that, since the Cassini craft was an amazing 900 million miles from the Earth-Moon pair when it grabbed the shot.
The Cassini-Huygens craft has been studying Saturn and its satellites since it arrived in the region in 2004. One of its most important missions is to study Titan, Saturn’s largest moon and the only known planet or moon other than Earth that supports liquid bodies of water.
Strangely enough, on the very same day, the Messenger craft that is currently searching the space around the planet Mercury for moons also grabbed a snapshot of Earth and its companion moon.
That picture too was released on Monday. That craft was a pea-pickin’ 61 million miles away — hardly any distance compared to Cassini. So our so-called double planet was easy to see in that image.
Because Messenger was hunting for small and potentially faint objects, its camera aperture was wide open to let in as much light as possible. That means that the Earth and its moon are over-exposed.
And that created the evocative image of the very bright pair seemingly floating in black space only distantly flecked with very faint stars.
The two pictures are very different views of our Earth in space. And yet somehow they create much the same feeling of awe that one tiny planet can be lost in so much space.
Were you amazed to see Earth and Saturn in the same photo?
[NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute and NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington]