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Saturn moon makes wild waves in close-up ring picture

As Cassini counts down its final days at Saturn, NASA looks back at a stunning image of moon-created ring waves.

Saturn's moon Daphnis makes waves out of ring particles.
NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

From a distance, Saturn's rings look like smooth curves. Up close, it's a different story.

This image from NASA's Cassini spacecraft shows a distinctive set of waves in the Keeler Gap, the black swathe visible within Saturn's A Ring (the first ring discovered by Earth astronomers).

The waves are the work of Saturn's moon Daphnis and its gravitational influence. The moon shapes the edges of the gap by pulling ring particles towards it as it orbits. Daphnis is a dainty moon, measuring in at just 5 miles (8 kilometers) across. Despite its size, it has a very noticeable impact.

Cassini snapped the image back in January at a distance of about 18,000 miles (30,000 kilometers) from the moon. NASA highlighted the fascinating view in a release Tuesday.

The Cassini mission is a joint project between NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. The spacecraft launched back in 1997 and is scheduled to end its journey this September, when it will plunge into Saturn's atmosphere.