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Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Mars moon Phobos Captured in 3-D

Phobos in 3-D via ESA's Mars Express
Some 135 years after its discovery, Mars’ largest moon Phobos is seen in fantastic detail – and in 3D – in an image taken by ESA’s Mars Express spacecraft as it passed just 100 km by.

The view above is much different to the faint object that astronomer Asaph Hall would have just been able to make out as he observed the Red Planet through the United States Naval Observatory’s 66 cm telescope in 1877. Through this telescope he discovered Mars’ smaller, outermost moon Deimos on 12 August and the larger, innermost moon Phobos on 18 August 1877.

Orbiting Mars at just 6000 km from the planet’s surface, Phobos is closer to its parent planet than any other known moon in our Solar System. The moon’s proximity means that it hurtles around Mars faster than the planet rotates: for an observer on the surface of Mars, Phobos would appear to rise and set twice a day. The moon’s orbit is decreasing and in some 50 million years time Phobos will likely break up to form a debris ring around Mars, before colliding with the planet’s surface. 

Apollo 11 moonwalker Buzz Aldrin has urged President Obama to mount a mission to Phobos in the future.

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