Amazing Image of the Martian Moon Phobos

Article Updated: 24 Dec , 2015

I think this will easily capture the prize for the best space photo of the month. Check out this amazing picture of Mars’ moon Phobos, captured in colour (and 3D) by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

The spacecraft snapped the picture on March 23, 2008 during a flyby. It took two separate images of the moon within 10 minutes of each other, which scientists later merged together into a stereo view.

“Phobos is of great interest because it may be rich in water ice and carbon-rich materials,” said Alfred McEwen, HiRISE principal investigator at the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory at the University of Arizona, Tucson.

Previous spacecraft, like Mars Global Surveyor, have actually flown closer to Phobos, and taken higher resolution images, but according to the researchers, “the HiRISE images are higher quality, making the new data some of the best ever for Phobos.”

When MRO took the first picture, Phobos was 6,800 km (4,200 miles) away, and it was able to resolve features as small as 20 metres (65 feet) across. For the second image, the spacecraft was 5,800 km (3,600 miles) away, and could resolve features down to 15 metres (50 feet) across.

Phobos itself is only 22 km (13.5 miles) in diameter. Since it’s so small, it doesn’t have the gravity to pull itself into a sphere, so it has an oblong shape.

Planetary scientists are hoping to understand if there are reserves of water on the surface of the Martian moon, and to get more clues about its history. Did Phobos form with Mars, or was it captured later on?

If you have a pair of red-blue glasses, you can take a look at the 3D view of Phobos on the HiRISE site. Here’s a link.

Original Source: NASA/JPL/HiRISE News Release

9 Responses

  1. Water ice you say?

    That sure does sound interesting!

    Perhaps it may be in NASA’s interest to establish a beachhead on Phobos, before preceding towards the red planet.

  2. Mr. LAME says:

    already looks like …

  3. Steve says:

    Phobos is not worth establishing a beachhead on. A body thats 22km across does not have enough gravity to physically hold a human. Anything under 27km if a human jumps, they fly off of and won’t come back.

    The only suggestion I can see for actually putting anything on phobos is one of those tether systems that have been mentioned on minor asteroids.

  4. Astrofiend (Syd, Aust) says:

    Wow, stunning picture. Check out all of those linear striations running down the length of the moon… Interesting geology. It’ll certainly be a field day for planetary geologists.

  5. PHWilson says:

    County Sheriff here just mumbled “fender-bender”.

  6. ScepticTim says:

    The full size version of this picture is truly fascinating. Even though Phobos gravitational field is less than 1 one thousandth of the earths we can still see evidence that material has slide down the rim of the large Stickney crater, particularly on the inside.
    The intersecting pattern, near Stickney’s rim, of the deep striations that appear to radiate from Stickney are suggestive of the trajectory expected of stress tensors in brittle material suggesting that they may be associated with the formation of the crater. I wonder if any attempt has been made to model and energetic impact of a brittle sphere like this ‘asteroid’ with a second, smaller object.

  7. Will says:

    Fantastic image and speaking on the gravity of the subject;
    Although small as our payloads may be, has there been any n-body studies presented by the experts as to the gravitational influence on the orbital attitudes of the satellites we get up close and personal with; particularly a lightweight like Phobos or Deimos? Just fishing…

  8. Tex says:

    My first reaction: It looks like a seed. This is excellent fodder for a sci-fi story.

  9. al says:

    What the article and NASA avoid saying is that, it looks like a brushed metal underneath the worn surface, and said metal looks like it has a design.

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