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Whoa! Factor 9: A view of home from space

A view of Saturn, its rings and something more familiar, from the Cassini spacecraft.
The NASA Cassini-Huygens mission is a space craft sent to orbit and study Saturn and its moons. It was launched in 1997 and finally arrived at Saturn in 2004. It's first task was to launch the Huygens probe, which landed on Saturn's largest moon, Titan. The Cassini orbiter is now studying the structure of Saturn's rings, among other tasks.

About a few days ago I received this email from Geoff Marcy:
Dear All, 
Today, on July 19, the NASA "Cassini" spacecraft at Saturn will point at Earth and take a picture.   
The idea of the image is to highlight how fragile and beautiful the Earth is within the vast, cold, darkness of the universe. 
Our colleague Dr. Carolyn Porco is the head of the NASA Cassini imaging team.
NASA and Porco will be pointing the Cassini spacecraft camera at Earth on July 19 at 2:30 (pacific). 
They will take an unprecedented planned and publicized image of the Earth and our Moon next to Saturn and its ring system: 
To contribute to this historic event in human history, we plan to point the Keck 1 telescope at Saturn at 7:15pm during twilight and take a photo of Saturn, in return. 
Look back at the picture at the top of the page. See that blueish, bright star down below Saturn's rings? That's your planet. That's the Earth, the whole entire world, the only habitable, terrestrial planet that we know of. As eloquently stated by Carl Sagan:
The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. 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. 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. Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity – in all this vastness – there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.
The Earth is the only world known, so far, to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment, the Earth is where we make our stand. It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known.
Here's a closeup, showing the Earth (bright dot) and the Moon (slightly fainter dot below the Earth):

This is why ecological conservatism is more than just tree-hugging and warm fuzzies. This fragile, tiny little mote of dust that we call home is all that we have. There's no life raft (yet), no do-overs. If we destroy habitability on this planet, that's it for humans. Not that it'll matter in a cosmic sense. The Earth will carry on, the laws of nature will continue to operate, new life forms will emerge and rise to take the place that we once occupied. But I'd rather those lifeforms be the kids of my kids' kids, not some unfamiliar creature. That's our job. We are supposed to be the caretakers of this little garden. Too bad we don't act like it.

In the mean time, let's hope we either get our act together to save our place in the emptiness of space, or put together a plan to find another home. I'm working on the latter!


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