Tuesday, November 12, 2013

smiling for cassini

Remember when we all smiled and waved at Saturn back in July, while the Cassini spacecraft snapped our photo? Well, the full mosaic from that magical day has finally been processed by Cassini's imaging team, and boy, is it a stunner. I'm not at all embarrassed to admit that it brought a tear to my eye the moment I saw it in full size...

Like a lens that might be utilized to view either the incredibly small or the incredibly distant, this mosaic compels us both to look inward, at how we might improve ourselves and the health of our only home, and to keep dreaming, about what else awaits us so long as we continue on in our quest to explore the solar system and beyond. (Indeed, if ever an image were appropriate to use as a call to action for those deciding the budgetary fates of our national space program, this one would be it.)

The timing of today's release coincides with the ceremonial hand-off of the late Carl Sagan's papers to the Library of Congress, where they have recently been archived for future generations to examine. We can all be sure that Sagan would have been quite pleased with this most magnificent interplanetary portrait... It is, of course, not only a thing of beauty, perfectly planned to take advantage of a breathtaking alignment of the sun, Saturn, and Earth. The image also reminds us just how tiny we are in the grand scheme of the cosmos—and how important it is to connect regularly with our fellow human beings so that we may reflect on our shared place in the universe.

I'm proud to have played a minor role in the planning of the #DayEarthSmiled and will remember these past months, and those 15 peaceful minutes in July, for many moons to come. For further insight, I highly recommend the latest Captain's Log from Cassini's imaging leader, Carolyn Porco, which beautifully summarizes her intent for the project and describes the many hidden treats you'll find if you take a closer look at the final mosaic.

Even if you missed the big event this past summer, take heart in knowing that your essence was captured in time and in space in this spectacular image in the year 2013.