Remember the day we all went outside, looked up, and smiled at the camera on Cassini? (Well, those of you on the light side of the Earth, that is. We folks in Europe just thought about it.) That was July 19, when Cassini took advantage of the total eclipse of the Sun behind Saturn to snap 323 photographs of the entire Saturnian system.
The Cassini imaging team has completed the arduous task of processing, choosing and combining 141 of those photographs into one vast, gorgeous image. You seriously want to look at this in the biggest resolution that will fit on your monitor. It’s simply beautiful. Click on the image to go to the photo’s home page and choose your preference to download.
Cool factoid of the day: This image spans 651,591 kilometers (404,880 miles). If the space shuttle Discovery were still flying, and could maintain its maximum speed of 17,400 mph for a long period of time, it would take 23 hours and 15 minutes to fly from one side to the other. What a flight that would be!
Carolyn Porco, who wrote the program that instructed Voyager 1 to take the first Pale Blue Dot image, has this to say about her team’s latest effort:
Have a look and you will discover a universe of marvels. The brightly rimmed globe of Saturn and its main rings aglow with sunlight streaming through them take center stage. On the left, embedded in the enormous, gossamer blue E ring, is the brilliant moon Enceladus, gleaming in the reflected light of Saturn and the sparkle of a hundred towering geysers, and likely the most promising place in all the solar system to access alien life. A careful examination uncovers the shadow cast by this moon through the spray of smoke-sized icy particles created by those geysers, like a telephone pole might cast a shadow through a fog.
Below and to the right of Enceladus is Tethys, a moon about a third the size of ours, illuminated by Saturn-shine. On the other side of the planet, to the upper right, is Mimas…only a crescent but also casting a faint shadow through the E ring.
And on it goes…more moons and faint rings for anyone caring to take the time to wander.
Now, look one more time. There, below the main rings and to the right of the globe of Saturn, far in the distance and seemingly lost in the radiance of the scene, lies a small speck of blue light, floating in a sea of stars. That is our home, with every last one of us on it…you, me, the folks down the block, even those on the opposite side of the Earth…we all inhabit that lovely blue dot.
You can have the fun of downloading the biggest version of this photo on offer and seeing these things for yourself, or you can go here and view cropped bits of the full image that accompany Dr. Porco’s text. Astronomy geeks should check out this page for a more complete description of the visible rings and moons, plus more information on the processing itself.