NASA’s Cassini probe to Saturn is preparing itself to take a follow-up to the historic image it took in 2006.
The famous image was taken as the Cassini probe passed into Saturn’s shadow on September 15, 2006. Scientists intended just to use the opportunity to capture an image of Saturn’s rings backlit by the Sun, but a pale blue dot showing up in between the rings surprised everyone. Cassini had accidentally caught an image of Earth.
The only image of Earth taken from deep space was taken by Voyager I in 1990.
The leader of the Cassini imaging team, Carolyn Porco, has wanted to try to repeat this shot since it became one of the mission’s most famous images. She and her team carefully examined the probe’s future positions, looking for another opportunity to capture Earth and Saturn. The best date they found was July 19 of this year.
This image will be an improvement over the 2006 image because it will be taken by Cassini’s highest-resolution camera and in approximate natural color.
This special photo shoot is not just a publicity stunt, though NASA has tried to make the public aware of the event with its Wave at Saturn campaign. Cassini will also collect valuable data about the fine structures in Saturn’s E ring, which are shaped by the geysers of Enceladus, as well as by Saturn’s own magnetic field and radiation pressure from the Sun. Cassini will also gather infrared data about the Saturn system.
Cassini will begin taking images to assemble the panorama at 21:27 UTC and finish about 15 minutes later. During this time, the spacecraft will be in Saturn’s shadow, allowing it to point its cameras toward the Inner Solar System without risking damage from the too-bright Sunlight.
NASA and JPL have produced an image, using a simulator, that very roughly approximates what the final image will look like.
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