A humbling view of the inner solar system from Saturn via Cassini

I’m going to offer up just one really cool item: A view of the inner solar system, assembled by NASA from imagery by the Cassini probe currently orbiting Saturn.

NASA has released a natural-color image of Saturn from space, the first in which Saturn, its moons and rings, and Earth, Venus and Mars, all are visible.

The new panoramic mosaic of the majestic Saturn system taken by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, which shows the view as it would be seen by human eyes, was unveiled at the Newseum in Washington on Tuesday.

Cassini’s imaging team processed 141 wide-angle images to create the panorama. The image sweeps 404,880 miles (651,591 kilometers) across Saturn and its inner ring system, including all of Saturn’s rings out to the E ring, which is Saturn’s second outermost ring. For perspective, the distance between Earth and our moon would fit comfortably inside the span of the E ring.

You are here:


Here’s a link to several full-sized versions of that photograph. I’ll include here the ones I think are the coolest. I’ve also enlarged portions to get a sense of how small we are from there.


Saturn in natural colors, with Mars, Venus, and the Earth/Moon system (Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI)


Consider this an open thread.

Published professional writer and poet, Becca had a three decade career in technical writing and consulting before selling off most of her possessions in 2006 to go live at an ashram in India for 3 years. She loves literature (especially science fiction), technology and science, progressive politics, cool electronic gadgets, and perfecting Hatch green chile recipes. Fortunately for this last, Becca and her wife currently live in New Mexico. @BeccaMorn

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25 Responses to “A humbling view of the inner solar system from Saturn via Cassini”

  1. NorthKoreasunshine says:

    I can see where you’re coming from. You have a point. I think we both basically agree.

  2. Monoceros Forth says:

    How many times do adjectives such as “insignificant” or “humbling” come up in discussions such as these? That is what I am referring to, this noxious habit of drawing metaphysical conclusions from hard physical facts. At least you seem to have some correct sort of grasp on the matter–it should be amazing that we can do this, not humiliating.

  3. NorthKoreasunshine says:

    the rather obvious truth that the Earth looks small from far away
    The message is that human beings have advanced to the point where we can take a photograph of Saturn with our own little tiny planet in the background over 900 MILLION MILES AWAY.
    I don’t know where you got the idea that this means that anything “isn’t worth bothering to think about.” Who said anything like that about anything? You invented that interpretation out of thin air.

  4. cheler says:

    hii cassie wud today lol kawana baby haha kawana baby gam,es

  5. cheler says:

    hii cool eath lolz

  6. HelenRainier says:

    Becca, so delighted you chose to post these. This whole thing we call “life” is so amazing and the thought that we are made of the “star stuff” (as Sagan phrased it) is so humbling and awe inspiring at the same time. I will never tire of hearing of the latest discoveries from astrophysics and cosmology.

  7. BeccaM says:

    I’ve wondered if that’s how it really is, with respect to extraterrestrial life. If, upon encountering anything out there, we soon learn that we humans are as ants to them.

    One reason why I rather liked Babylon 5. We humans were upstarts. The Centauri tried to pretend we were one of their long lost colonies, so as to take advantage of our backwardness. Then it turned out the Minbari were significantly more advanced than even them. And beyond the Minbari were the Vorlons, which nobody understood. And beyond the Vorlons were the First Ones — who were incomprehensible.

  8. Jim Olson says:

    Lions and tigers and bears…

  9. Monoceros Forth says:

    Saturn photos may seem anticlimactic.

    How old do you think I am? I followed the Voyager missions faithfully in “Astronomy” magazine since I was a small boy and I watched “Cosmos” when it first came out.

  10. Monoceros Forth says:

    My view of the Universe tends to the Lovecraftian these days, I admit, but here’s the thing: if you really and truly believe that human beings are of prime importance in some spiritual sense, an argument from mere geometry doesn’t really serve as a rebuttal. The physical size or placement of an object would say nothing about its supposed metaphysical significance.

    Such geometrical arguments tend to annoy me anyway. Usually they pile on the emotional adjectives, stressing the supposedly lowly positions of dinky little Earth and its paltry dwarfish Sun parked at the edge of a mediocre galaxy and all the rest of it. It would actually kind of suck to be circling round a massive giant located near the center of a massive elliptical galaxy.

  11. Naja pallida says:

    One bear to rule them all?

  12. Hue-Man says:

    “The Sun’s magnetic field will soon make a dramatic flip…” “According to NASA, the next flip is expected by the end of the year.”

    “…the flip will probably have little effect on us humans, other than temporarily increasing the chance of significant solar flares.”

    “If they are directed toward Earth, they can interact with the Earth’s magnetic field, knocking out man-made satellites and power grids, affecting navigation equipment on airplanes, and interfering with other electronics and communications systems.” http://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/sun-s-pending-magnetic-flip-has-physicists-on-edge-1.2418621

    BTW, last flip was in 2003: “…the sun blasted off 17 major eruptions over the space of three weeks, including a record-setting X28 flare. The resulting geomagnetic storms generated blood-red auroras on Halloween and partially disabled half of NASA’s satellite fleet, permanently damaging some satellites.”

    And from 140 MILLION years ago: “Paleontologists hunting for dinosaur tracks in B.C.’s Peace Region have unexpectedly discovered tiny footprints that they believe could be among the oldest bird tracks in the world.” http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/oldest-bird-tracks-in-world-found-in-b-c-1.2427300

  13. pappyvet says:

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  15. pappyvet says:

    It makes you realize how momentary we are and how very precious our interactions with all life should be held.

  16. zorbear says:

    I’ll bet that Sarah Palin can!

  17. zorbear says:

    Exactly! When the truth is, I’M the reason the universe exists…

    (and a baby bear shall lead them…)


  18. Outspoken1 says:

    Being an ‘older’ person, humans had never seen the earth as a whole until the famous 1970s photo of the ‘big blue marble’ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Blue_Marble . We had seen snippets of the earth from the first human satellite, the Russian’s ‘Sputnik’ satellite launched in 1957. It was an we inspiring photo and lent to great reflection and introspection. We have seen live feeds from Mars – so the Saturn photos may seem anticlimactic until you stop and take a moment to remember it took decades of time and a great deal of luck to get these photos. The Saturn photos are looking back at earth – not earth looking outwards.

  19. Ninong says:

    Glad to see you captioned it Earth and Moon rather than Earth-Moon, which is what shows up on NASA’s photo. Both the ESA and NASA have taken to considering the Earth and Moon as a double planet lately instead of a planet with a satellite. According to the official IAU definition we’re still a planet with satellite and not a double planet.

    In order to meet the definition of double planet, the barycenter must be outside both bodies. The barycenter orbited by the Earth and the Moon is 1,710 km beneath the Earth’s surface. Therefore, we’re not a double planet. Besides, the Moon’s mass is only 1/81 Earth’s, which is why the barycenter is where it is.

    This article includes really neat GIFs that clearly show what I’m talking about. Check it out: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barycentric_coordinates_(astronomy)

  20. Mike_in_the_Tundra says:

    That “big message” will help give to children a new perspective. A perspective that most of us never had as children.

  21. Mike_in_the_Tundra says:

    Thanks, Saturn has fascinated me since I was a child.

  22. Indigo says:

    This particular shot is spectacular and reverses the tiny image of Saturn that we get from earth. It’s like mirroring, we look at them and they’re tiny, they look at us and we’re tiny. Okay, but there’s no Deep Meaning in the data, that’s a construct we humans generate in our role as meaning-makers. There is no meaning in the event, we construct that.

  23. cole3244 says:

    some here on earth are insignificant, all of us on earth are insignificant in the scheme of things relating to the universe.

  24. BeccaM says:

    I think the message is “we’re really not that important in the cosmic scheme of things.”

    People take themselves too seriously. Or think foolish nonsense (in my opinion anyway) like we humans are literally the only reason the universe exists.

  25. Monoceros Forth says:

    I’ve never quite understood what the big message is supposed to be in the rather obvious truth that the Earth looks small from far away. I might as well conclude that London or Paris aren’t worth bothering thinking about since I can’t see either city from my window.

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