Cassini spacecraft is set to capture a rare photo of Earth today as it sits to one side of Saturn's rings, and Carolyn Porco, the leader of Cassini's imaging team, says the picture is a great opportunity for us to stop for a moment and think about the enormity of what's happening all around us.
"I just thought it would be a fantastic moment, a fantastic opportunity, if we could do it again, do it right, make sure the pictures are the correct camera settings, correct filters, all that stuff, do it right and let everybody know in advance so this could become a kind of interplanetary salute between robot and maker. Think about where we are, think about life on planet Earth, how incredibly marvelous it is, think about your own existence, just have a moment of cosmic self awareness," Porco said.
Porco worked with Carl Sagan in 1990 to create a photo of Earth on Voyager 1, and that picture became known as the "pale blue dot" by Sagan, who marveled at how the home of where everyone we have ever known or will know could seem so small and insignificant. This new photo will accomplish much of that same feeling, but on a different scale. As Cassini circles Saturn, it will have access to a view of Earth that no human has ever seen: a distant, tiny planet some 898 million miles away. The photo will be part of a mosaic of pictures taken by the spacecraft as it moves around the ringed planet.
The photo shoot will begin around 5:30 Eastern time tonight, and pictures of Earth and the moon should be available within the next week. Scientists say it will take a few weeks to gather all the other photos into the mosaic, however.