Released: Stunning Close-Up Photos of the Weird Martian Moon, Phobos

By Smriti Rao | March 15, 2010 4:31 pm


The European Space Agency has released the latest pictures of the Martian moon Phobos, taken by the European Mars Express (MEX) probe during its recent flybys. On one flyby, MEX skimmed just 42 miles above the surface of Phobos, which is the closest any manmade object has ever gotten to the little Martian moon.

The image above is from a flyby that brought MEX within 63 miles of the surface; its High Resolution Stereo Camera took photographs that have a resolution of 14 feet per pixel. The images are being scrutinized by the Russian space agency as it tries to settle on a landing site for its ambitious Phobos-Grunt mission next year–the two potential landing sites are marked by red dots in the picture above. The Phobos-Grunt mission aims to collect a soil sample from Phobos, and then to return the sample to Earth for analysis.

Phobos is an odd little moon: it’s a potato-shaped rock measuring only 12 miles by 17 miles. Scientists believe the moon is relatively porous, but say its origin is still open to debate. Researchers suspect the moon is simply a collection of planetary rubble that coalesced around the Red Planet sometime after its formation. Another explanation is that it is a captured asteroid [BBC News]. Scientists believe that Phobos is being slowly pulled towards Mars, and tidal forces are expected to tear it apart one day.

The moon has drawn more attention lately, because it’s increasingly seen as a steppingstone for Mars-bound astronauts. Last month, NASA shifted its focus from sending humans back to the moon to a “flexible path” that includes the moons of Mars as potential destinations. The idea is that low-gravity locales such as Phobos (and Mars’ other moon, Deimos) should be easier to get to because they’re more accommodating for landing and ascent [MSNBC].

Related Content:
80beats: Photo Gallery: The Best Views From Spirit’s 6 Years of Mars Roving
80beats: Dis-Spirit-ed: NASA Concedes Defeat Over Stuck Mars Rover
80beats: New Images Reveal Traces of Ancient (and Life-Friendly?) Martian Lakes
DISCOVER: Russia’s Dark Horse Plan to Get to Mars describes the Phobos-Grunt mission

Image: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin (G. Neukum)

  • Charles perry

    I think that going to mars would be mankind’s greatest achievements i would love to see my son or my grand children have the opportunity to start colonizing the red planet as a stepping stone into the unknown

  • David Hughes

    Is fear of Phobos Phobosophobia?

  • angel in Indy

    Cool, Phil, Roger Ebert linked to you! My twitter circle is complete.

  • SonnBunz

    I agree with Charles. Going to mars would be much more of an achievement than going to Phobos. But the way things are going in this country, we’ll be lucky if we get to stage another moon landing in the next 30 years.

  • Carl

    This is total nonsense. Man has never been to the moon, and will never make it to the moon or Mars’ moon! Its all a scheme by the Jesuits and Freemasons to launder trillions of dollars from governments around the world in order to build their Lucifer worshiping One World Government. You will see Phobos soon though… it is headed to Earth, which NASA is not telling anyone. You can see it in the night sky now, which in some cases it appears red and as large as Venus! Wake up morons.

  • Robin van Persie Jersey

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