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Picture of the day - October 19, 2006

View Of The Earth From Beyond Saturn


The earth as seen from beyond the planet Saturn.
Photo courtesy of NASA.

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to travel to the outer region of the solar system and take a look back at the distant Earth? Although we have made tremendous strides in space technology and exploration, we still haven't reached the point where we humans can hop in a space ship and venture many millions of miles to explore our solar system in person. We have indeed been to the moon - and it won't be too long before we go to Mars, but those neighbors are extremely close to us in the astronomical sense.

It will be quite a while before we'll have the capability to send human explorers the vast distances required to reach the outer planets, but we have dispatched unmanned vehicles to their neck of the woods on several occasions. Perhaps the most amazing of these robotic space travelers is Cassini, which reached the giant gaseous planet Saturn in 2004. After successfully going into orbit around the planet, Cassini began sending back a series of spectacular photos the likes of which had never been seen before. And one of them is the "Picture Of The Day"...

Cassini recently drifted "behind" Saturn creating a view where the giant planet eclipsed the distant sun. It remained in that location for some 12 hours taking pictures of Saturn's rings, moons and other items of interest. For me, one of the most interesting things about the photo above is that you can actually see the earth! It appears as a tiny blue dot located to the left of Saturn between the bright series of rings and the first solo ring.

Ordinarily, the sun is so bright that it would be impossible to see any of the "rocky" planets from a distance of a billion+ miles from the sun, but when the sun is blocked from view by the gas giant Saturn, the impossible becomes possible. Just imagine - if you had hitched a ride aboard Cassini, you would be able to see your home planet - faint as it may be - from the better part of a billion miles away!

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