Say 'cheese,' Earthlings! Spacecraft to snap home planet pic from deep space

The Cassini spacecraft, now near Saturn, will take a photo of Earth later today

NASA's Cassini spacecraft, which is now flying near Saturn, is turning its cameras back toward Earth today so it can grab a photo of its home planet from hundreds of millions of miles away.

Scientists expect Earth to appear as a small blue dot between the rings of Saturn in the image, NASA said.

The photo is being taken as part of a series of images Cassini is shooting of the Saturn system. The images ultimately will be put together to create a mosaic of Saturn.

"While Earth will be only about a pixel in size from Cassini's vantage point 898 million miles away, the team is looking forward to giving the world a chance to see what their home looks like from Saturn," said Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist. "We hope you'll join us in waving at Saturn from Earth, so we can commemorate this special opportunity."

Cassini will start taking Earth's image at 5:27 p.m. ET today. The effort is expected to last for about 15 minutes.

While the image is being taken, Saturn will be eclipsing the sun from Cassini's vantage point. Since the spacecraft will be in Saturn's shadow, it will have a clear view of the planet's rings.

NASA reported that at the time of the photo, North America and part of the Atlantic Ocean will be in sunlight.

Unlike two previous Cassini eclipse mosaics of the Saturn system in 2006, which captured Earth, and another in 2012, today's image will be the first to capture the Saturn system with Earth in natural color, the space agency noted.

It also will be the first to capture Earth and its moon with Cassini's highest-resolution camera. When the two earlier photos were taken, the sun would have damaged Cassini's sensitive lenses on its best camera.

"Ever since we caught sight of the Earth among the rings of Saturn in September 2006 in a mosaic that has become one of Cassini's most beloved images, I have wanted to do it all over again, only better," said Carolyn Porco, Cassini imaging team lead. "This time, I wanted to turn the entire event into an opportunity for everyone around the globe to savor the uniqueness of our planet and the preciousness of the life on it."

The robotic spacecraft has been orbiting Saturn for years. The project is a joint effort between NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency.

NASA's Cassini spacecraft created this panoramic view of the Saturn system in 2006.

This article, Say 'cheese,' Earthlings! Spacecraft to snap home planet pic from deep space, was originally published at

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at  @sgaudin, on Google+ or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her email address is

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