SALT LAKE CITY — Millions of people around the world stood outside, looked up at the sky and waved at a camera that is 898 million miles away on Friday. It's an event that NASA has dubbed "The First Interplanetary Photobomb."
The camera is on the Cassini spacecraft, which was launched in 1997 and has been circling Saturn since 2004. Cassini has taken many, many photos, of Saturn, its 60 moons and its famous rings, but Friday was different. The spacecraft was in a position where the shadow of Saturn blocked the rays of the sun, which allowed Cassini to shoot back toward Earth for 15 minutes.
"We get to reflect back to it," said Benjamin Bromley, professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Utah. "And we get to wave. But we're waving not just at ourselves, we're really waving at the universe at large — the vast and beautiful universe."
Friday was only the third time in the history of space exploration where a spacecraft has been able to take a photo of earth. Cassini took photos of Earth back in 2006, when it was in the same position as it was today, and the Voyager spacecraft captured the Earth from about 4 billion miles away in 1990.
We get to wave. But we're waving not just at ourselves. We're really waving at the universe at large.
–Benjamin Bromley, U. professor of physics and astronomy
At the Natural History Museum of Utah, there was a "Wave at Saturn" party where people could observe the skies through telescopes Friday afternoon. At the precise moment of 3:27 p.m., the group waved toward the Cassini camera. It is the type of event that NASA hopes will get more people interested in the solar system.
It will take a while before scientists on Earth receive the photos and data from Cassini, but they are excited to review it.
"Today we will learn a little bit about the material around Saturn that we can't see under other circumstances," Bromley said. "That's one of the main scientific reasons why the images are being taken today."
The photos might even show other planets that haven't been seen before.
What will Earth look like from Cassini? Just a tiny blue dot. But just think — you are a part of that tiny blue dot.