Our home the Earth – as seen from Saturn and Mercury

Earth as seen by Cassini on July 19, 2013 - the tiny blue speck in the distance below Saturn's rings in this view. Click for larger version. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / SSI / Jason Major
Earth as seen by the Cassini spacecraft on July 19, 2013 – the tiny blue speck in the distance below Saturn’s rings in this view. Click for larger version. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / SSI / Jason Major

Last Friday, a remarkable thing happened, which received a lot of publicity, especially for space fans: the Earth had its photo taken – from Saturn! The Cassini spacecraft took the images, which were used for The Day the Earth Smiled event, showing the Earth as a very tiny blue speck in the distance, with Saturn and its rings looming in the foreground. Zooming in closer, the Moon can also be seen. How cool is that? But that’s not all… although it didn’t seem to get as much attention, the Earth and Moon also had their picture taken from Mercury, by the MESSENGER  spacecraft, on the same day!

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The Day the Earth Smiled – July 19, 2013

Credit: The Day the Earth Smiled
Credit: The Day the Earth Smiled

Something remarkable is going to happen next Friday, July 19, 2013. On that day, the Earth is going to have its picture taken, but not just from an orbiting satellite, from Saturn. The Cassini spacecraft, still orbiting the ringed planet, will take images of Saturn and all of its rings during an eclipse of the Sun. This has been done twice before, but this time, the view will include another tiny, far-away blue speck – the Earth, in natural colour.

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Does Saturn’s moon Dione also have a subsurface ocean?

The cratered surface of Dione, as seen by Cassini. Did (or does) an ocean lurk beneath the surface? Credit: NASA / JPL / Space Science Institute
The cratered surface of Dione, as seen by Cassini. Did (or does) an ocean lurk beneath the surface? Credit: NASA / JPL / Space Science Institute

The outer solar system was once thought to be not much more than a frozen wasteland, at least in terms of the many moons orbiting the gas and ice giant planets. But with the intriguing discoveries made by robotic probes such as Voyager, Galileo and Cassini, we now know differently.

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How Saturn shakes its rings

As well as its moons, Saturn itself can create "waves" in its rings. Credit: NASA / JPL / Space Science Institute
As well as its moons, Saturn itself can create “waves” in its rings.
Credit: NASA / JPL / Space Science Institute

Saturn’s rings are one of the most beautiful sights in the solar system. They are an amazing planetary phenomenon – countless bits of rock, ice and dust orbiting the planet in relatively paper-thin rings, which, when seen from above, kind of look like a giant vinyl record (remember those?). Saturn’s many moons can affect the rings’ appearance due to their gravitational pull. Now, new research shows how Saturn itself can do this also, essentially “shaking” its rings.

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The ‘red rose’ of Saturn: stunning new colour images of giant hurricane

Cassini image, in false colour, showing the massive "red rose" hurricane at Saturn's north pole. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / Space Science Institute
Cassini image, in false colour, showing the massive “red rose” hurricane at Saturn’s north pole.
Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / Space Science Institute

Hurricanes are an incredible force of nature, and these huge rotating vortexes of wind are an amazing sight when viewed from space. But Earth is not the only planet that has hurricanes, and there is one on Saturn that dwarfs any on our own planet. Now, the Cassini spacecraft has taken more breath-taking colour images of this colossal wind storm.

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Cassini sees meteor impacts in Saturn’s rings

Just like planets and moons, Saturn’s rings experience frequent meteor impacts. Credit: NASA / JPL
Just like planets and moons, Saturn’s rings experience frequent meteor impacts.
Credit: NASA / JPL

Meteors flashing across the sky are a common sight here on Earth, but of course they are not limited to only our planet; these bits of rocky debris, smaller pieces of asteroids and comets known as meteoroids, can be found just about everywhere in the solar system (becoming meteors when entering and burning up in the atmosphere). Now, the Cassini spacecraft has observed similar impacts occurring in another very different and far-away place: the rings of Saturn!

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