I’ve already posted some beautiful closeups of Phobos, a moon of Mars, taken by the Mars Express space probe, after the European Space Agency aimed the spacecraft at the tiny moon. The closeups are beautiful, but now the ESA has posted a stunning full-body shot of Phobos:
[As usual, click the pix to embiggen.]
The resolution is an amazing 9 meters (30 feet!) per pixel. Clearly, Phobos has been through a lot. Mars orbits near the inner edge of the asteroid belt, which may explain how battered its surface is. The grooves were once thought to be ripples from a big impact that created the whopping crater Stickney (not seen in this view, but you can see it really well here), but are now thought to be from boulders rolling around in the low gravity of the moon, perhaps ejected rocks from various impacts landing back down in the feeble gravity.
Note the one winding path going from the upper left to lower right: that looks very much like a boulder bounced its way across the surface! The curvy path is an indication of the changing gravity field of Phobos: it’s not a smooth sphere, but a lumpy potato, so the surface gravity — what you’d think of as "down" if you were standing there — changes greatly depending on position.
They also put together this stunning 3D anaglyph. You can really see the depth of the craters and grooves on the surface. Run, don’t walk, to get a pair of red/green glasses for this one! Phobos really pops out of the screen. The depth and clarity of the 3D is amazing!
This pass of the moon was designed to obtain as much scientific data as possible before the launch of the Russian mission called Phobos-Grunt, which will land on the moon and send a sample of its surface back to Earth for study. Phobos looks an awful lot like an asteroid itself, and its origin is still something of a mystery. More data like these — and obtaining a sample of its surface material! — may clear up its story once and for all.
Credits: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin (G. Neukum)