Carl Sagan once referred to the Earth as "where we make our stand."
And when seen by NASA's Cassini spacecraft from over 900 million miles away, that pale, blue dot he described suddenly makes sense. It's home -- but just one tiny speck barely visible in the infinite reach of space.
One very important speck, that is:
“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.
The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. From Carl Sagan's "Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space."
High above the planet Saturn on Friday, Cassini took photographs of that pixel we live on, backlit by Saturn's rings. If you looked at the skies, chances are you were photographed from space by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, almost a billion miles away.
You’re not the only one.
For the first time in the nine years the spacecraft had been in orbit, Earth’s inhabitants knew that their photos would be taken and came out to take part in “The Day that the Earth Smiled.” Scientists knew this and a social media campaign had been waged in the weeks prior, urging Earthlings to participate in the worldwide event.
Carolyn Porco, the leader of Cassini’s Imaging Team and the founder of “The Day that the Earth Smiled,” tweeted after the unique interplanetary photo-op, gushing.
WASN'T IT FABULOUS?! I thought of all of u & all the ppl arnd the globe thinking the same thoughts I was. Felt SO connected to everyone.
— Carolyn Porco (@carolynporco) July 20, 2013
Back on Earth, photos were shared via a NASA Flickr gallery and Tweets hashtagged #DayEarthSmiled and #WaveatSaturn. Cassini began to beam down raw images on Saturday and fans began to produce unofficial color pictures.
Guillermo Abramson, a physicist at Argentina's Bariloche Atomic Center, posted his attempts on his Facebook page. He then explained that the pictures are produced with both wide angle and telephoto lens. Each image has different filters, so they must all be combined to get cohesive colors. In addition, the spacecraft was moving between shots, so the images must be aligned.
Val Klavans, an image processor and social-media leader for a film project, "In Saturn's Rings,” uploaded her version of the finished product on Flickr.
A mixture of Earth images are set to be used in a mosaic of Friday’s cosmic event. Astronomers Without Borders are gathering photos of Saturn in an attempt to see the planet “as ordinary people do.” An interactive image of Saturn’s rings will be created, but “when you zoom in you'll see all the pictures from Earth that the mosaic is made of,” the organization’s website explained.
According to the Cassini team website, Porco said that the first official images will be processed and released within the next few days and a mosaic – showing Saturn, its rings and Earth – will be completed in six weeks.
"I can't wait to see the entire mosaic," Klavans tweeted, excitedly.