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NASA releases images of Earth taken from Saturn, Mercury

by Xinhua
23 Jul 2013 at 05:45hrs | Views
WASHINGTON - U.S. space agency NASA on Monday released color and black-and-white images of Earth taken by two of its interplanetary spacecraft last week that show our planet and its moon as "bright beacons" from millions of kilometers away in space.

NASA's Cassini spacecraft captured the color images of Earth and the moon from its perch in the Saturn system nearly 1.5 billion km away. MESSENGER, the first probe to orbit Mercury, took a black-and-white image from a distance of 98 million km as part of a campaign to search for natural satellites of the planet, the agency said.

In the Cassini images, the Earth and the moon appear as mere dots: Earth a pale blue and the moon a stark white, visible between Saturn's rings. It was the first time Cassini's highest- resolution camera captured Earth and its moon as two distinct objects, NASA said.

"We can't see individual continents or people in this portrait of Earth, but this pale blue dot is a succinct summary of who we were on July 19," said Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist, at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "Cassini's picture reminds us how tiny our home planet is in the vastness of space."

NASA said pictures of Earth from the outer solar system are rare because from that distance, Earth appears very close to our Sun. A camera's sensitive detectors can be damaged by looking directly at the Sun, just as a human being can damage his or her retina by doing the same.

Cassini was able to take this image because the Sun had temporarily moved behind Saturn from the spacecraft's point of view and most of the light was blocked.

In the MESSENGER image, Earth and the moon are less than a pixel, but appear very large because they are overexposed, NASA said.

"Because Mercury and Saturn are such different outcomes of planetary formation and evolution, these two images also highlight what is special about Earth. There's no place like home," said MESSENGER Principal Investigator Sean Solomon of Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in a statement.

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Source - Xinhua

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