Alpha Centauri seen by Cassini in orbit around Saturn

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Cassini released an image taken from Saturn of the Alpha Centauri system today:

The triple (though only two are visible in the image) star system comes out really small compared to the rings, so let's eliminate some from the left and right and take a closer look:

There they are! After seeing the image one starts to wonder if the image was taken from a location closer or farther away to the star system than Earth (though the distance from us to Saturn is nothing in comparison to the distance to Alpha Centauri), and if so, by how much. Luckily the press release has already provided the information so we don't have to calculate it ourselves:

From the orbit of Saturn, light (as well as Cassini's radio signal) takes a little more than an hour to travel to Earth. The distance to Alpha Centauri is so great that light from these stars takes more than four years to reach our Solar System. Thus, although Saturn seems a distant frontier, the nearest star is almost 30,000 times farther away.

Okay, but this also depends on where Saturn is located right now compared to us. Luckily we have this chart of the night sky from of the southern hemisphere (I selected a location in Indonesia) which shows us the following:

There's Centaurus along the south, and Saturn's located about 90 degrees on the west side, which means that yes, it is ever so slightly closer to Alpha Centauri than we are.


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