NASA reaches way out for selfie of Earth and Saturn

Cassini spacecraft snapped pictures, as people waved, to create panoramic mosaic

NASA used 141 wide-angle images to create a panoramic view of Saturn, its moons and rings -- and with Earth in the background. The result is a natural-color, panoramic portrait of Saturn as if it were seen through human eyes.

The images were taken by NASA's Cassini spacecraft this pas summer from about 898 million miles away. The spacecraft turned its cameras back toward Earth so it could grab a photo of the Saturn system, as well as its home planet, from hundreds of millions of miles away.

NASA released a mosaic of panoramic images of Saturn, and its moons and rings, as well as Earth, which is a pale blue dot in the lower right of the image. (Image: NASA)

The space agency had invited people all over the world to run outside and wave up toward Saturn on July 19, the day the pictures were being taken. They then were asked to share their own pictures of the Wave at Saturn event on social networks, like Flickr and Facebook.

Cassini, which was launched in 1997 and has been orbiting Saturn for more than nine years, also snapped photos of Saturn and Earth on June 19. All of the photos were added to the mosaic.

"In this one magnificent view, Cassini has delivered to us a universe of marvels," Carolyn Porco, Cassini's imaging team lead, said in a statement. "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."

The space agency noted that the panoramic image sweeps 404,880 miles across Saturn and its inner ring system, including all of Saturn's rings out to the E ring, which is Saturn's second outermost ring.

For a bit of perspective, the distance between Earth and our moon would easily fit inside the span of the E ring.

On the days that Cassini turned its cameras back toward Earth, the sun had slipped behind Saturn - from the spacecraft's point of view - giving the spacecraft a clear, and not too bright, view of our planet. Normally, it's difficult for Cassini to take images of Earth because the brightness of the sun would damage its sensitive imagers.

Unlike two previous Cassini eclipse mosaics of the Saturn system - one in 2006, which captured Earth, and another in 2012 - the latest images are the first to capture the Saturn system with Earth in natural color.

The Cassini project is a joint effort between NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. NASA reported that it plans to continue the mission through 2017, with the goal of capturing more images of Saturn.

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, on Google+ or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed. Her email address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

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This story, "NASA reaches way out for selfie of Earth and Saturn" was originally published by Computerworld.

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