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NASA spacecraft at the moon snaps photo of Saturn from lunar orbit

A magnified view of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter's image of Saturn captured on Oct. 13, 2021.
A magnified view of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter's image of Saturn captured on Oct. 13, 2021. (Image credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University)

Just because a spacecraft is sent to study the moon doesn't mean it can't do a little extra skywatching now and then.

NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) has been circling the moon since 2009. But a new image NASA shared on Monday (Nov. 22) from the spacecraft shows a very different destination: Saturn, complete with the planet's stunning rings. 

LRO snapped the image on Oct. 13 using its Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC). At the time, the spacecraft was about 56 miles (90 kilometers) above a lunar feature dubbed Lacus Veris, or the Lake of Spring, according to a NASA statement.

Related: Cassini's greatest hits: The spacecraft's best images of Saturn

The image shows the northern side of Saturn's characteristic rings and more of the planet's northern hemisphere than the southern. The northern hemisphere's summer ended and its autumn began in March.

The ringed world's year lasts for about 29 Earth years, making each season more than seven Earth years long.

NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter caught a picture of Saturn and its rings on Oct. 13, 2021.  (Image credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University)

LROC's cameras were designed to study the moon, of course, so NASA had to manipulate the spacecraft carefully to catch such a stunning image of Saturn.

Although a similar image of Jupiter was able to spot some of the behemoth's largest moons, LRO couldn't pull off the same feat at Saturn. That's because Saturn is dimmer than Jupiter, according to NASA — and both are much dimmer than the moon that LROC is tailored to study.

Email Meghan Bartels at mbartels@space.com or follow her on Twitter @meghanbartels. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

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Meghan Bartels
Senior Writer

Meghan is a senior writer at Space.com and has more than five years' experience as a science journalist based in New York City. She joined Space.com in July 2018, with previous writing published in outlets including Newsweek and Audubon. Meghan earned an MA in science journalism from New York University and a BA in classics from Georgetown University, and in her free time she enjoys reading and visiting museums. Follow her on Twitter at @meghanbartels.