- Image is Cassini's first showing Saturn, rings, moons, Earth, Venus and Mars at same time
- The collage is panorama of 141 wide-angle pictures taken July 19
- Image was possible that day because Saturn obstructed spacecraft's view of sun
NASA has given the people of Earth a rare treat: A color mosaic that captures not only Saturn, but also the tiny dots of Earth and other planets in the background.
The panorama, released Tuesday, was captured by the Cassini spacecraft on July 19, when the sun slipped behind the ringed planet. Earth appears as a bright blue dot to Saturn's lower right, just above Saturn's outer, halo-like E-ring.
Venus is a dot to the upper left, with Mars appearing as a faint red dot above and to the left of Venus.
This is the first image in which Saturn, its moons and rings, and Earth, Venus and Mars are all visible, NASA said. The image -- a panorama of 141 wide-angle pictures -- covers 404,880 miles across Saturn and its ring system.
Cassini images showing both Saturn and Earth are rare because the sun is so close to Earth, that targeting the blue planet would damage Cassini's sensors, NASA says. The July 19 image was possible because Saturn blocked out the sun.
Space-minded earthlings might remember that July 19 was "Wave at Saturn" day. The Cassini team, knowing it would be capturing the Saturn-Earth images, invited people to take photos of themselves waving to the sky while the spacecraft took Earth's picture.
Cassini was never going to see people gesturing from the tiny blue speck, of course, but that wasn't the point. People shared more than 1,400 images of themselves from that event, and in August, NASA released a collage of those pictures assembled to look like -- from a distance -- a portion of Earth's Western Hemisphere.
The Cassini spacecraft was launched in 1997 and has been in orbit around the sixth planet from the sun since 2004. NASA hopes to have it continue to get more pictures and other data of Saturn, its rings and moons through 2017.