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