This is a photo of the Earth (as seen from the rings of Saturn)


posted Tuesday, July 23, 2013 at 7:03 PM EDT


Some 900 million miles away sits Cassinia spacecraft we launched in 1997 and sent to Saturn. And on July 19th, it took a photo of us. All of us. Cassini shot an incredibly rare, long-distance image of Earth, set against the rings of Saturn.

The images were released by NASA on July 22nd, and were, in fact, not just photos from Cassini, but also from the Messenger probe around Mercury.

Images from that far out in our Solar System are rare because the Earth sits so close to the Sun that getting an appropriate exposure is exceedingly difficult. However, in this situation, the Sun was blocked by the mass of Saturn, allowing Cassini to capture a shot of Earth.

Double impressive is the fact that the Cassini was able to send back a detailed enough image that you can make out the Moon too, our natural satellite as another pale dot near us. This is the first time Cassini's managed to capture both objects distinctly and independently.

The photo was also part of a special, worldwide event called "Wave at Saturn," where people across the globe took the opportunity to wave at Cassini and the planet in time for the photograph.

The Cassini packs two 1-megapixel cameras, one wide angle, and one narrow. That's not a lot of resolution, but thanks to stitching, NASA is able to combine multiple shots into a bigger view of the heavens.