Did you stand outside on July 19 and wave to the sky? If you didn’t, you missed your chance to get your picture taken by the Cassini spacecraft, which is currently hurtling around Saturn. The image captured by Cassini offers a stunning view of both Saturn and the Earth — although, admittedly, one is slightly more prominent than the other.
According to Carolyn Porco, leader of Cassini’s imaging team, “This will be a moment of global cosmic self-awareness, when everyone can pause at the same time and consider our beautiful, tiny planet floating through the never-ending blackness of space.” She continues, “Even though the whole Earth won’t be in sunlight, everybody on the planet will still be in this photo.”
This certainly isn’t the first photo of Earth. In fact, Cassini produced an equally stunning image in 2006.
However, photos of Earth from space never get old for me and are always an opportunity for self-reflection. Here are several vantage points from which to see our tiny blue orb:
Earth from Mars
Credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell/Texas A&M
This is the first picture taken of Earth from the surface of another planet. It was taken from the Mars Spirit Rover on March 8, 2004. The contrast of this image was increased by two times to make the Earth easier to see. This little rover was very far away from home.
Earth from Mercury
This is a stunning image of Earth and the moon sent from NASA’s Mercury Surface, Space Environment, Geochemistry, and Ranging (aka MESSENGER) spacecraft on May 6, 2010. The spacecraft was 114 million miles away, which is further away than the average distance from Earth to the sun. This happened because of where Mercury and Earth were in their relative orbits.
From the Moon
This is one of those iconic photos from Apollo 11, when human beings first touched down on a world other than Earth. The image of the lunar module, known as “Eagle,” was taken from the command module, known as “Columbia.” But you can also see the Earth, half illuminated, in the background.
Pale Blue Dot
Credit: Wikimedia Commons
At first blush, this is an unimpressive, grainy photo of darkness. But it’s so much more profound than that. Do you see that tiny, blue dot? The one illuminated by the right-most sunbeam? That’s Earth. That’s us. From about six billion kilometers away. It was taken by the spacecraft Voyager 1 as it was leaving the solar system. It doesn’t look like much, but, to paraphrase Carl Sagan, everyone we know, everyone we love, and everything we have is housed on this little speck of dust. And just think: that photo was taken in 1990. Voyager 1 was at the edge of the solar system, but it has still not hit interstellar space.
From the International Space Station
It’s easy to forget, but there are several humans living in Low Earth orbit, about 250 miles up. These incredibly lucky people send back photos of Earth from their spaceship home. This is a gorgeous view of Earth using time-lapse photography. You can see city lights, lightning and auroras. It’s just beautiful.
If you want to see more photos of Earth from space, I recommend following astronaut Karen Nyberg on Twitter. She tweets wonderful photos and occasionally a video, giving us land lubbers a glimpse of what life in space is like.
Photo Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute