Looking Back at Earth: A Tiny, Pale Blue Dot

By Tom Yulsman | July 22, 2013 10:19 pm

In this portrait by the Cassini spacecraft, looking past Saturn toward the inner solar system, Earth is the tiny blue dot at center right. (Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute)

7/23/13 | Update below on the origin of the term ‘pale blue dot’, a stirring quote from Carl Sagan, and an additional image 

Here it is: Cassini’s greatly anticipated portrait of the Earth, as seen from the Saturnian system nearly 900 million miles away. It’s the pale blue dot in the right center of the image, under Saturn’s luminously beautiful and delicate rings.

According to NASA, this is only “the second time that Cassini has imaged Earth from within Saturn’s shadow, and only the third time ever that our planet has been imaged from the outer solar system.”

I think this truly is a ‘wow’ moment.

Here is a closeup, showing Earth and the moon together:

The Earth and Moon, as imaged by the Cassini spacecraft from Saturn. The image has been magnified five times. (Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute)

Earth is the larger, blue dot; the moon is the smaller, whiter one.

According to NASA, this is just the beginning:

It is only one footprint in a mosaic of 33 footprints covering the entire Saturn ring system (including Saturn itself). At each footprint, images were taken in different spectral filters for a total of 323 images: some were taken for scientific purposes and some to produce a natural color mosaic. This is the only wide-angle footprint that has the Earth-moon system in it.

This is by no means the most distant portrait of Earth taken by one of our robotic explorers. Check out this one, shot from nearly 4 billion miles away, by the Voyager-1 spacecraft in June, 1990:

Don’t see it? Keep looking…

Are we feeling humble yet?

7/23/13 | Update: Voyager’s historic image of Earth was part of a series that also included Neptune, Uranus, Saturn, Jupiter, and Venus. The tiny speck that was Earth inspired Carl Sagan, a member of the Voyager imaging team, to dub Earth “a pale blue dot.” And in 1997, his book by that name — “Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space” —  was published.

In it, he penned these stirring words:

From this distant vantage point, the Earth might not seem of any particular interest. But for us, it’s different. Consider again that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives.

Here he is reading these words — and more . . .

And here’s Voyager’s entire “Family Portrait” series of images:

In 1990, Voyager-1 pointed back toward the sun and took this mosaic of 60 pictures of the solar system, capturing images of Jupiter, Venus, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune — and, of course, Earth. (Mosaic: NASA/JPL

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, EarthArt, select, Top Posts
  • Luis García Pimentel Ruiz

    What is the bright blue area in the lower part of the photo?

    • Tom Yulsman

      Good question. I’ll try to find out.

      • Pinche9853

        I’m guessing the sun.

    • Pinche9853

      I’m guessing the sun reflecting.

  • Loren Riley

    I love the pale blue dot photograph. Cassini did a great job, and I smiled and waved at it, but nothing compares to the Voyager shot… but they’re all beautiful photos.

    • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com Michael Keener

      Hi Loren!
      I smiled real big and waved back at you!….

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com Ian Ward

    There must be some gigantic ETs out there!

  • Archies_Boy

    Another, perhaps even more well-known quote of Sagan: “The Cosmos is all there ever was, is, or ever will be.”

  • bwana

    A mere speck! A mote of dust in the universe! How very humble one has to be when one considers how totally insignificant we really are…

  • BohdanUke1

    Wow!

  • Jerry Robin Davis

    How was it determined that speck was the Earth? The star field around it at the time the image was captured?

  • Clay

    Why are there no stars in the photo?

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ImaGeo

ImaGeo is a visual blog focusing on the intersection of imagery, imagination and Earth. It focuses on spectacular visuals related to the science of our planet, with an emphasis (although not an exclusive one) on the unfolding Anthropocene Epoch.

About Tom Yulsman

Tom Yulsman is Director of the Center for Environmental Journalism and a Professor of Journalism at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He also continues to work as a science and environmental journalist with more than 30 years of experience producing content for major publications. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Audubon, Climate Central, Columbia Journalism Review, Discover, Nieman Reports, and many other publications. He has held a variety of editorial positions over the years, including a stint as editor-in-chief of Earth magazine. Yulsman has written one book: Origins: the Quest for Our Cosmic Roots, published by the Institute of Physics in 2003.

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