Thousands of Earthlings Wave to Saturn

BY Jenny Marder  August 22, 2013 at 1:43 PM EST

People around the world shared more than 1,400 images of themselves as part of the Wave at Saturn event organized by NASA’s Cassini mission. The mission has assembled this collage from the shared images. Photo courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech.

In June, we posted a column by Carolyn Porco, leader of the Cassini spacecraft’s imaging team. In it, she promised that Cassini, which has been orbiting the Saturn system since July 2004, would capture and beam back an image of Saturn with its entire ring system during the planet’s eclipse of the sun. Perhaps more exciting, our Earth would photobomb the picture, as a tiny speck of blue light in the lower right. And at the moment that Cassini pointed its cameras at the two planets and snapped the historic shots, she invited the world to wave.

We told the camera shy not to worry — at 898 million miles away, they’d never be seen from Saturn. But NASA has created a collage of the July 19 event using photos from the more than 1,400 people that participated. (See image above.)

“While Earth is too small in the images Cassini obtained to distinguish any individual human beings, the mission has put together this collage so that we can celebrate all your waving hands, uplifted paws, smiling faces and artwork,” said Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in a NASA release.

Scientists are still poring over visible-light and infrared data to compile the images of the Saturn system and Earth, which they expect will take at least several more weeks to complete, according to NASA. It will mark only the third time that a photo of the Earth has been taken from deep space. The first and most distant was captured 23 years ago by NASA’s Voyager 1 spacecraft from nearly 4 billion miles away — the famous Pale Blue Dot. Cassini also snapped an image in 2006 from a 926-million-mile distance.


QUICK BITES

The grove was a magnet for southbound migrants, and every bird that flew in, regardless of its size or species or conservation status, was killed and eaten. For the young men, songbird hunting was a relief from boredom, an excuse to hang out as a group and do guy things. They also had a generator, a computer loaded with B movies, an SLR camera, night-vision goggles, and a Kalashnikov to fire for fun–they were all from well-to-do families.

Their morning’s catch, strung on a wire like a large bunch of fish, included turtledoves, golden orioles, and tiny warblers. There’s not much meat on a warbler, or even on an oriole, but to prepare for their long autumnal journey the migrants build up stores of fat, which could be seen in yellow lobes on their bellies when the hunters plucked them. Served with spiced rice, they made a rich lunch. Although orioles are reputed in the Middle East to be good for male potency (they’re “natural Viagra,” I was told), I had no use for Viagra and helped myself only to a turtledove.

  • Don’t miss Rebecca Jacobson’s NewsHour piece on what the now-defunct Kepler spacecraft has contributed beyond its search for other Earths. Includes “sub-Neptunes”, strange “slingshot” orbits, and planets that orbit two stars.

  • For the National Science Foundation’s* latest Science Nation, Miles O’Brien reports on the eight-foot walls of video screens that envelop viewers in a three-dimensional virtual world at The University of Illinois at Chicago. One researcher is using the Cave 2 project to analyze brain scans and study nerve fibers.

“Within a week of arriving at the NSA, I was presented with an amazing smorgasbord of the most alluring mathematics problems I had ever seen, any of which could possibly yield to a smart undergraduate. I hadn’t seen anything like it–and I never will again.”

Rebecca Jacobson contributed to this report.

The National Science Foundation is an underwriter of PBS NewsHour.