NASA has unveiled a stunning photo of ringed planet Saturn with distant Earth, Mars and Venus in the same shot.
The amazing image, from the orbiting Cassini space probe, was taken as thousands of people around the world smiled and waved at Saturn in a campaign.
Yesterday, after weeks of processing work by experts, NASA showed the picture, a panorama that was captured on July 19 this year.
The NASA team had to assemble 141 separate wide-angle images to create the photo which Cassini took while on the far side of Saturn so that the planet blotted out the Sun and presented its night side to the camera.
The panorama sweeps across 404,880 miles (651,591 km) of space to include the rings out to the second outermost ring, the E ring, and seven of Saturn’s moons. Zooming in on one, Enceladus, shows it erupting an icy plume of particles into the E ring.
But also visible are the Earth and Moon as a bright blue dot to the lower right of Saturn, Venus as a bright dot to its upper left and Mars as a fainter red dot just above and to the left of Venus. For a full annotated image indicating all the planets, satellites and rings, click here.
Cassini was launched in 1997 and has been exploring Saturn for more than nine years since its arrival in 2004, making a string of discoveries about the giant planet and its many moons. The probe previously imaged Earth shining faintly between the rings in 2006.
NASA gave warning that Cassini would be taking the picture of Earth and invited people around the globe to find the planet in the night sky and to smile and wave at it.
Carolyn Porco, leader of Cassini’s imaging team at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colorado, said: “In this one magnificent view, Cassini has delivered to us a universe of marvels, from spokes in Saturn’s main rings to the spray erupting from the icy moon Enceladus, from the shadows of moons cast through the gorgeous blue E ring to the inner planets Venus, Mars, and our own planet Earth, far in the distance.
“And it did so on a day people all over the world, in unison, smiled in celebration at the sheer joy of being alive on a pale blue dot.”