The Cassini spacecraft captured the color images of Earth and the moon from its position in the Saturn system nearly 900 million miles, while MESSENGER, the first probe to orbit Mercury, took a black-and-white image from a distance of 61 million miles as part of a campaign to search for natural satellites of the planet, NASA said Monday.
In the Cassini images Earth and the moon appear as mere dots visible between Saturn's rings, the first time Cassini's highest-resolution camera has been able to capture Earth and its moon as two distinct objects.
"Cassini's picture reminds us how tiny our home planet is in the vastness of space, and also testifies to the ingenuity of the citizens of this tiny planet to send a robotic spacecraft so far away from home to study Saturn and take a look-back photo of Earth," Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., said.
In the MESSENGER image, Earth and the moon are less than a pixel.
Both the Cassini and MESSENGER images were taken July 19.
"That images of our planet have been acquired on a single day from two distant solar system outposts reminds us of this nation's stunning technical accomplishments in planetary exploration," said MESSENGER Principal Investigator Sean Solomon of Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. "And 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."
MAVEN now orbiting Mars