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Our Earth shown as tiny point of light in image taken between Saturn's rings

Lost in the vastness of space, the Earth appears as an insignificant pinprick of light between the mighty rings of Saturn in a new image from the Cassini spacecraft.

The Nasa probe, which has been investigating Saturn and its moons since 2004, captured the extraordinary photo on April 12 at a distance of 870 million miles from Earth.

A blown-up version of the image clearly shows the moon a short distance to the left of the planet.

Although far too small to be visible in the pictures, the part of the Earth facing towards Cassini at the time was the southern Atlantic Ocean.

Saturn's rings are made up of countless icy particles and boulders up to a metre across in size. The two main rings visible above and below the Earth are the A ring (top) and the "F" ring (bottom) - Saturn's outermost ring.

The American space agency released the photos as Cassini nears the dramatic grand finale of its mission.

On April 26, the spacecraft will start a series of 22 dives through the 1,500 mile-wide gap between Saturn and its rings.

On its final orbit on September 15, Cassini will make a suicidal plunge into Saturn's atmosphere, beaming a stream of unique data back to Earth before burning up.

Dr Jonathan Lunine, director of the Cornell Centre for Astrophysics and Planetary Science in New York, who has worked on many aspects of the Cassini mission, said: " Cassini is the quintessential 'discovery machine', unearthing surprises everywhere it has looked in the Saturn system.

"Cassini has done things and gone places it was not designed for, and come out a champion every time.

"I will be sad to see its mission end this fall, but extraordinarily grateful to have been a part of this amazing odyssey from its very beginnings in the 1980s. Cassini sets a high bar for missions yet to come."

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