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Cassini Probe Puts a Ring On Earth Before it Dies

first_img Tune In As Brad Pitt Speaks With NASA Astronaut on ISSNASA Says 2 Asteroids Will Safely Fly By Earth This Weekend Stay on target If you’re a space nerd, you’re probably familiar with the Cassini probe. It, alongside the Huygens lander, were part of a joint ESA and NASA mission to study Saturn and its moons. The mission has been one of the most successful in space history and marked a number of firsts for our species. Even so, Cassini was launched almost twenty years ago, and it’s starting to feel it. Over the next few months, the probe will be sent spiraling towards Saturn’s thick atmosphere to die, ending a long and storied mission.Before the spacecraft makes its final descent, though, it took a gorgeous shot of Earth, a tiny speck, enveloped by Saturn’s rings. The image is serene, and “put a ring on it” jokes aside, this may well be one of the most important photographs in history.Like Voyager’s Pale Blue Dot back in 1990, this image shows Earth in context. It shows us — everything we’ve ever known or loved — surrounded by black and dwarfed by the rings of another planet. That’s a powerful idea, one that impresses our smallness. It’s hard to see that, here on Earth. And even though we know that the universe and the galaxies and even our own solar system are vast compared to our little rock, that notion doesn’t hit as hard as it perhaps should.Showing us and the moon as distant flecks, mere pixels in a photograph shifts the perspective. No longer are we on the Earth gazing into the endless heavens. Instead, it’s as if we sit in the sky and gaze back at ourselves. In that moment we can grasp just a sliver of the cosmic perspective.Cassini will take 22 more passes between Saturn and its rings, collecting data and hopefully more spectacular images along the way before it takes its final plunge on September 15.last_img read more