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Spacecraft will take Earth photo from Saturn

6:30 PM, Jun 21, 2013   |    comments
Cassini Probe, courtesy: nasa.gov
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CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- NASA wants you to wave at Saturn on July 19.

The space agency plans to take an interplanetary photo and wants you looking attentive when its photographer snaps the image from 898 million miles away.

Between 5:27 p.m. and 5:42 p.m. July 19, NASA plans to train the Cassini spacecraft's highest-resolution camera toward Earth. Cassini, which launched from Cape Canaveral in 1997, is currently exploring Saturn.

Earth will appear as a small, pale blue dot between the rings of Saturn -- so don't expect to see yourself. But the space agency still wanted Earthlings to have some fun with the photo shoot since deep space photos of home are rare.

"While Earth will be only about a pixel in size from Cassini's vantage point ... the team is looking forward to giving the world a chance to see what their home looks like from Saturn," Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif, said in a statement.

The principal scientific goal of the effort is to study Saturn's rings since the planet will be backlit by the sun. Getting Earth, too, in the mosaic is a nice bonus.

NASA is making the photo a social media event. Earthlings are being asked to take a photo of their July 19 wave at Saturn and share them with the Flickr group Wave at Saturn, or add the photos to the Wave at Saturn Facebook page or tag pictures on Twitter #waveatsaturn. If the space agency gets enough photos, they'll make a special collage.

NASA has a long history of providing space-based images of Earth, such as the 1968 "Earthrise" photograph taken by the Apollo 8 moon mission from about 240,000 miles away.

But taking photos of Earth from the outer solar system is more challenging because the sun can blind the spacecraft's cameras. The July 19 photo opportunity is possible because Cassini will be in Saturn's shadow.

The only other deep space home portraits: the 1990 "Pale Blue Dot" image taken by Voyager 1 from 4 billion miles away, and another shot by Cassini in 2006 from 926 million miles away.

Mara D. Bellaby, Florida Today

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