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Earth seen from Saturn, Mercury [PHOTOS]

By GABRIELLE LEVY, UPI.com   |   July 23, 2013 at 11:09 AM   |   Comments

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July 23 (UPI) -- Nearly 900 million miles away, the Cassini spacecraft took a rare glance back at its home planet Friday.

Thanks to a total eclipse of the sun by Saturn, which Cassini has been orbiting since 2004, the probe was able to turn its sensitive cameras back towards Earth.

Thousands of Earthlings waved at Saturn at the exact moment the picture was taken, but at 898 million miles away, it's tough to see their smiles, let alone the cities, land masses and oceans that make up our home.

"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," Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., said in a statement. "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."

At the same time, the Messenger probe, orbiting Mercury 61 million miles away, also took a photo of Earth and our moon.

"It thrills me to no end that people all over the world took a break from their normal activities to go outside and celebrate the interplanetary salute between robot and maker that these images represent," said Carolyn Porco, Cassini imaging team lead at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colo. "The whole event underscores for me our 'coming of age' as planetary explorers."

© 2013 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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