So tell me this isn’t embarrassing: I actually took my daughter outside to wave at Cassini last month, praising the almighty coincidences of physics, chemistry, biology, neurology, psychiatry, and psychology that brought me to remember, just in time, that this was happening. The young lady, of course, was less than impressed.
So I didn’t mention anything to her, later, about how I went back down to my desk, after tucking her into bed, congratulating myself and feeling all self-satisfied, and then looking again and realizing that while JPL and I share a time zone, the shoot was planned for that hour UTC.
NASA’s Cassini spacecraft captured the color images of Earth and the moon from its perch in the Saturn system nearly 900 million miles (1.5 billion kilometers) away. MESSENGER, the first probe to orbit Mercury, took a black-and-white image from a distance of 61 million miles (98 million kilometers) as part of a campaign to search for natural satellites of the planet.
In the Cassini images Earth and the moon appear as mere dots—Earth a pale blue and the moon a stark white, visible between Saturn’s rings. It was the first time Cassini’s highest-resolution camera captured Earth and its moon as two distinct objects.
It also marked the first time people on Earth had advance notice their planet’s portrait was being taken from interplanetary distances. NASA invited the public to celebrate by finding Saturn in their part of the sky, waving at the ringed planet and sharing pictures over the Internet. More than 20,000 people around the world participated.
“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 in Pasadena, Calif. “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.”