Earth will get a very not-too-close closeup today from NASA's Cassini spacecraft, now on the far side of the planet Saturn. The photo session will take place between 2:27 PM and 2:42 PM PDT. The Earth will be seen from 900 million miles away. It won't be a detailed image, but it is the longest-range photo ever taken of the Earth. This will likely be the one and only image the spacecraft takes of the Earth.
You can follow along with a couple of iOS apps that will virtually take you there. First, SkySafari has just had an update to the iOS and Mac apps they offer. SkySafari's basic version will be free on the iTunes Store from July 19th through July 21st; it's normally US$3 at the iTunes Store. With SkySafari, observers around the globe can easily use their iPhone or GPS, compass and accelerometer to easily locate Saturn in the sky. A brand-new release of SkySafari Plus ($9.99 sale price) and Pro (3.8.1) ($29.99) lets mobile app users fly to Saturn, and simulate the view from Cassini. These powerful apps will be offered at up to 25 percent off regular price today, the day of the event, through Sunday, July 21st.
Meanwhile, another great Astronomy app, Distant Suns (Classic) for iOS is having a half-price sale today at $1.99. Distant Suns Max is $3.99 down from a regular price of $9.99. Distant Suns can take you for a virtual view of the Earth from Saturn just as it will appear to the Cassini spacecraft.
The Cassini mission has been pretty awesome. People around the world are gathering at planetariums and other public places to wave back at Saturn when the images of Earth are being taken. After the moon, I think my first views through my telescope when I was young were of Saturn. It's a beautiful sight. If you want to get a look at Saturn today and tonight here's a guide to help you. Saturn will be in the southwestern sky tonight from North America. With powerful binoculars or a small telescope, you should be able to see the rings. Here's another bit of trivia: Our own Steve Sande's wife Barbara was on the Cassini launch team. Well done!