Space is a freaky place, and few people understand that as well as NASA software engineer Kevin Gill. He regularly uses real data to inspire works of art he renders using complicated computer software. In the past, he has created visualizations of what Mars would look like if it were inhabited and what Earth would look like if it had rings. Now, he’s released a series of images that show Saturn’s moon Daphnis and its unusual relationship with the planet’s rings.
In his latest work, Gill imagines what Saturn’s system of rings looks like as it interacts with one of the planet’s moons. The images, titled “Daphnis in the Keeler Gap” and “Daphnis and Waves Along the Keeler Gap” show his approximation of the relationship in stunning fashion.
For the uninitiated, the Keeler Gap is one of the many amazing trademarks of the planet Saturn. The 26-mile-wide gap sits about 155 miles from Saturn’s outermost ring, and it undulates as one of the planet’s moons passes through.
The small moon Daphnis—one of the planet’s 62 moons—orbits within the gap, keeping it clear and visible in satellite images. Daphnis was only discovered in 2005, and scientists are still researching the gravitational ripples the moon causes on the outer edge of the Keeler Gap.
If you’re disappointed that these images are only artistic renderings, it’s important to remember that high-resolution photos of Saturn are actually very rare. Scientists can only snap photos of the planet during its equinox every 15 years, when the sun hits the rings at an angle that make them most visible. In 2009, we received a huge batch of beautiful images from the NASA/ESA Cassini-Huygens spacecraft. That means it will probably be several more years before we ever see more high-resolution photos of the ringed planet.