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NASA's Cassini spacecraft captures breathtaking images of Earth from Saturn

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Earth from Saturn (Credit:  NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute)
Earth from Saturn (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute)

NASA's unmanned Cassini spacecraft has already returned some gorgeous views of the planet Saturn, which it is currently flying around. But the latest images should be enough to make it and any other interplanetary travelers (such as Voyager 1) homesick. On July 19th, the spacecraft, located about 898 million miles from Earth, snapped a shot of our home planet as it appears looking from just underneath Saturn's massive rings. In this rare view — only the third time in history that Earth has been photographed from the outer solar system — the planet appears as a tiny but unmistakable glowing blue dot.

"reminds us how tiny our home planet is in the vastness of space."

In a closer view of the same composite shot released today by NASA, Earth's moon also can be seen as a fainter, white dot beside its parent. To top it off, NASA released images of Earth taken from another spacecraft on the other side of the solar system, the MESSENGER spacecraft, which recently orbited Mercury. It's difficult to put into words exactly the combination of feelings that these images evoke — awe, humility, splendor, isolation, you name it. As NASA Cassini project scientist Linda Spilker put it: "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." Or as the late cosmologist Carl Sagan said about the first image of Earth from the far reaches of the solar system:

"Look again at 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. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every 'superstar,' every 'supreme leader,' every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there-on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam."

Check out the full set of images below and at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory website.