(Photo : NASA/JPL/Reuters)
(Photo : courtesy NASA/Reuters)
Don't forget to smile and wave toward Saturn a little before 5:30 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time today.
That's when Cassini, the robotic space probe orbiting the gas giant, will turn its highest-resolution camera in the direction of Earth, says the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, which launched the craft toward the ringed giant back in 1997.
Currently flying an estimated 898 million miles from us, Cassini is scheduled to snap images of the earth between 5:27 and 5:42 EDT.
According to the Cassini Solstice Mission page at the website for NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, "Cassini's image of Earth will be just 1.5 pixels wide, with the illuminated part of Earth less than a pixel, so the resulting mosaic will not actually show people or the continents... But if you are on the sunlit side of Earth at the time - North America and part of the Atlantic Ocean - you are in the picture. The western part of Africa and Europe will also be facing Cassini's cameras, but they will be dark."
Of course, folks in the United States looking into the sky at the time of the long-distance photo shoot won't actually be able to see Saturn through the sunlit atmosphere. Nonetheless, Saturn will be positioned low on the eastern horizon - the direction NASA officials say people outside may wave to be included in the series of 15 images Cassini will during the approximate 15-minute window.
"While Earth will be only about a pixel in size from Cassini's vantage point... the team is looking forward to giving the world a chance to see what their home looks like from Saturn," Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist at Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif, said in a statement.
NASA has a history of snapping space-based images of Earth, such as the 1968 "Earthrise" photograph captured by the crew of the Apollo 8 moon mission, from about 240,000 miles away.
But the only other home portraits from outer space are the "Pale Blue Dot" image taken in 1990 by the Voyager 1 deep space probe from 4 billion miles away and a 2006 shot by Cassini from 926 million miles away.
Cassini's interplanetary glamour shoot will be followed Saturday at 7:49 a.m., 8:38 a.m. and again 9:41 a.m. EDT when NASA's Messenger spacecraft, orbiting Mercury, will take its own pics of home.
Details on how to find Saturn in the sky and participate in the event are available at http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/waveatsaturn .
Members of the public will be able to share pictures by using the hashtag #waveatsaturn on Twitter, or uploading pictures to the event's Flickr page at http://www.flickr.com/groups/wave_at_saturn/ .
The event's Facebook page is http://bit.ly/waveatsaturn .
And Cassini mission scientists are scheduled to participate in a live Ustream show on today (Friday, July 19) from 2 to 2:30 p.m. PDT (5 to 5:30 p.m. EDT)at http://www.ustream.com/nasajpl2 .