Japan and Germany have a history of collaboration in scientific and technological endeavours. The countries have a Joint Committee on Cooperation in Science Technology that has met many times over the decades. Both countries have advanced, powerful economies and sophisticated technological know-how, so it makes sense they’d collaborate on scientific activities.
This time, their cooperation concerns a small, potato-shaped chunk of rock: Mars’ moon Phobos.
ESA’s Mars Express has captured an unusual and rare occultation, all from its vantage point in orbit of Mars. The spacecraft’s orbit brought it to the right place where it could witness the moment Mars’ small moon Deimos passed in front of Jupiter and its four largest moons. Scientists say that celestial alignments like these enable a more precise determination of the Martian moons’ orbits.
Two fundamental factors affect all astrophotography – timing and location. If a camera happens to be at the right place at the right time, it can capture images that have never been seen before. And with the proliferation of cameras throughout the solar system, more and more novel photos will be captured at an ever-increasing frequency. China’s Tianwen-1 probe added to that novel collection to celebrate its second anniversary by taking a shot of Mars’ moon Phobos.
JAXA, the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency, is carving out a niche for itself in sample-return missions. Their Hayabusa mission was the first mission to sample an asteroid when it brought dust from the asteroid Itokawa to Earth in 2010. Then its successor, Hayabusa 2, brought back a sample from asteroid Ryugu in 2020.
Now JAXA has the Martian moon Phobos in its sights and will send a spacecraft to sample it as soon as 2024. The mission is called Martian Moons eXploration (MMX), and it’ll use a pneumatic vacuum device to collect its samples.
The search for Martian life has been ongoing for decades. Various landers and rovers have searched for biosignatures or other hints that life existed either currently or in the past on the Red Planet. But so far, results have been inconclusive. That might be about to change, though, with a slew of missions planned to collect even more samples for testing. Mars itself isn’t the only place they are looking, though. Some scientists think the best place to find evidence of life is one of Mars’ moons.
Japan’s space agency (JAXA) is gearing up for its Martian Moons eXploration (MMX) mission, with plans to have a sample from Mars’ moon Phobos return to Earth by 2029. Mission scientists say they hope to find clues to the origins of Mars two moons, as well as Mars itself, and possibly even traces of past life.
“We think that the Martian moon, Phobos, is loaded with material lifted from Mars during meteorite impacts,” the MMX team said on Twitter. “By collecting this Phobos sample, MMX will help investigate traces of Martian life and the new era of Martian habitability exploration in the 2020s will begin.”
Running the clock back on the enigmatic pair of Martian moons Phobos and Deimos gives researchers insight to their possible origin.
A recent study provides crucial clues on the possible ‘origin story’ for the two tiny moons of Mars, Deimos and Phobos.
Modern astronomy provides us with a snapshot, a look at the present state of affairs across the solar system… but what were things like in the distant past? The existence of the two tiny moons seen orbiting Mars presents a particular dilemma for astronomers. Close up, Phobos and Deimos resemble tiny misshapen captured asteroids… but how did they get into the neat, tidy orbits that we see today?
According to new research that appeared in the scientific journal Nature Geoscience, the larger of Mars’ two moons (Phobos) has an orbit that takes it through a stream of charged particles (ions) that flow from the Red Planet’s atmosphere. This process has been taking place for billions of years as the planet slowly lost its atmosphere, effectively establishing a record of Martian climate change on Phobos’ surface.
This research has provided yet another incentive for landing a mission on Phobos, something that has never been done successfully. In essence, this mission could gather sample data that would allow scientists to study this record more closely. In the process, they would be able to learn a great deal more about how Mars went from being a warmer world with liquid water to the extremely arid and cold environment it is today.
NASA’s Mars Odyssey Orbiter doesn’t get a lot of headlines lately. It was sent to Mars in 2001, to detect the presence of water and ice on Mars, or the past presence of it. It also looked at Mars’ geology and radiation. It’s been doing its job without a lot of fanfare.
Now Odyssey’s infrared camera has given us three new images of Mars’ moon Phobos.