Weddings, picnics, ballgames...there's nothing like joining a bunch of like-minded people in a beautiful outdoor setting to celebrate a joyful event. I was back on JPL's spacious mall last Friday, July 19th, for just such a celebration. "Wave at Saturn" was the brainchild of Cassini imaging scientist Carolyn Porco and others on the spacecraft team. Hundreds streamed out of their offices, clean rooms and labs to smile and wave for one of history's most exciting self-portraits.
1.4 billion kilometers (900 million miles) away, Cassini had turned toward the dark side of Saturn. The sun beautifully backlit the ringed giant, its light diffracting around its perimeter and through its ring particles. Just below was a pale blue dot. Yeah, THAT pale blue dot--the one we all live on. All over that pixel were human beings looking back at Saturn and waving. At least, the humans who weren't looking to Mercury and the MESSENGER spacecraft orbiting there, and also capturing snapshots of our homeworld.
You can experience the waves of excitement that swept over us in this week's Planetary Radio episode. It includes a conversation with Cassini's Deputy Project Scientist, Scott Edgington, and the Cassini Program Manager, Earl Maize. I also shot the fun video you can watch on this page. Across the pond in England, wavers could actually see Saturn above them in the night sky. Blogger and astropoet Stuart Atkinson led about 120 fans of planetary science to a 12th century castle where they became figurative elements in Cassini's fifteen-minute exposure. Stuart provides a report to PlanRad listeners.
I was also pleased to welcome back Emily Lakdawalla and Bill Nye. And Bruce Betts gives you another chance to win the newly-redesigned Planetary Radio t-shirt in the space trivia contest.
Give us a wave and tell us what you think of the show and public celebrations of human achievement and exploration.