Tags: earth | saturn | mercury | nasa

Earth: Saturn, Mercury Vantage Points Show Our Planet in NASA Photos

Image: Earth: Saturn, Mercury Vantage Points Show Our Planet in NASA Photos

Tuesday, 23 Jul 2013 03:06 PM

By Michael Mullins

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Images of the Earth from Saturn and Mercury have been released by NASA showing a small, glowing bluish dot orbited by a grey moon billions of miles away.

The images, captured on Friday, were taken by NASA's Cassini spacecraft as it orbits Saturn and its moons, and the Messenger probe that is orbiting Mercury.

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"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," Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., said in a statement. "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."

More than 20,000 people were waving toward Saturn when the Cassini spacecraft took the image, NASA said in its press release.

Photos of the Earth from the outer solar system are rare, according to the space agency, because if the sun is too close to a spacecraft, it will damage the spacecraft's sensitive detectors.

The sun temporarily moved behind Saturn at the time when the Cassini spacecraft took the photo, according to NASA.

The Messenger's image of the Earth, which is black and white, appears more blurry than  Cassini's.

From Mercury, the Earth appears in less than one pixel and is purposely overexposed because of the distance and the camera's limited ability to lighten the subject.

"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. in the NASA press release.

"And because Mercury and Saturn are such different outcomes of planetary formation and evolution, these two images also highlight what is special about Earth," Solomon added. "There's no place like home."

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