Prepare to have your picture taken from nearly a billion miles away.
On Friday, July 19, the Cassini spacecraft currently orbiting Saturn will look back towards the sun and take a cosmic family portrait of the back-lit ringed world with distant Earth beside it. (Get Time of Event from Around the World.) The event is slated to take place starting at 5:27 p.m. EDT and will end 15 minutes later.
While Earth will only take up a pixel or two on the cosmic family portrait, the public is being invited to commemorate this historic event by looking up at the sky and waving at Saturn.
Saturn will appear to be eclipsing the sun from the Cassini orbiter’s vantage point, whereas the Earth will appear simply as a tiny pale blue dot. North America and parts of the Atlantic Ocean will be sunlit at the time of the interplanetary photoshoot.
The NASA probe’s unique vantage point on the far side of Saturn will also highlight the tiniest of ring particles and will allow scientists to see patterns within Saturn’s dusty rings that are otherwise invisible. (Related: “Saturn Rings Surprisingly Unstable, Violent.”)
Since its arrival at Saturn in 2004, Cassini has taken Earth’s portrait twice before. However, this is the first time Earthlings will know in advance that their photo is being taken. It will also be the first photograph that captures Earth and its moon in natural colors thanks to Cassini’s highest-resolution camera.
Not to be outdone, mission managers of the NASA Mercury orbiter MESSENGER, have discovered that Earth will also appear in a set of images that are being snapped by the orbiter while it searches for possible moons around the innermost planet.
Those images will be taken at 7:49 a.m., 8:38 a.m. and 9:41 a.m. EDT on July 19 and July 20. NASA says that parts of the Earth not illuminated in the Cassini images, including all of Europe, the Middle East and Central Asia, will appear illuminated in the MESSENGER images.
Details on how to find Saturn in the sky and participate in the event are here.