Most all of us have seen photographs in which Earth looks like a big, blue marble, but what about a tiny, blue one?
That's basically what you'll see in new, stunning images NASA released on Monday.
Taken with cameras from two interplanetary spacecrafts that are located near Saturn and Mercury, the images show what Earth looks like from hundreds of millions of miles away.
One color photograph taken from the Cassini spacecraft on July 19 shows the beige rings of Saturn hovering above a tiny, bluish dot, which is Earth. In this image, Earth is nearly 900 million miles away.
"We can't see individual continents or people in this portrait of Earth, but this pale blue dot is a succinct summary of who we were on July 19," Cassini project scientist Linda Spilker said in a statement. "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."
This is the first time Cassini has been able to take a photo of Earth. From this distance, it's almost impossible to capture images of our planet because of its proximity to the sun. Like human eyes, camera detectors can be damaged by looking directly into sunlight. To get this photo, Cassini waited until the sun was temporarily blocked behind Saturn.
Another distant photograph was taken from the MESSENGER probe. (See slideshow below.) This spacecraft, which is located 61 million miles away, near Mercury, snapped a black-and-white image of Earth and our moon. In this picture, the two bright objects appear larger than they are because the image was overexposed to capture as much light as possible. Without overexposure, no details of the Earth and moon can be seen because they are each less than one pixel in size.
"That images of our planet have been acquired on a single day from two distant solar system outposts reminds us of this nation's stunning technical accomplishments in planetary exploration," MESSENGER principal investigator Sean Solomon said in a statement. "And because Mercury and Saturn are such different outcomes of planetary formation and evolution, these two images also highlight what is special about Earth. There's no place like home."