Mars May Have Repeatedly Been a Ringed Planet

Mars’ 9-mile-wide moon Deimos imaged on Feb. 21, 2009 by HiRISE (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona)

(News from SETI)

Scientists from the SETI Institute and Purdue University have found that the only way to produce Deimos’s unusually tilted orbit is for Mars to have had a ring billions of years ago. While some of the more massive planets in our solar system have giant rings and numerous big moons, Mars only has two small irregularly-shaped moons, Phobos and Deimos. Although these moons are small, their peculiar orbits hide important secrets about their past.

This insight from a modest tilt of a humble moon’s orbit has some significant consequences for our understanding of Mars and its moons… It implies that for much of its history, Mars possessed a prominent ring.

For a long time, scientists believed that Mars’s two moons,  discovered in 1877, were captured asteroids. However, since their orbits are almost in the same plane as Mars’s equator, that the moons must have formed at the same time as Mars. But the orbit of the smaller, more distant moon Deimos is tilted by two degrees.

“The fact that Deimos’s orbit is not exactly in plane with Mars’s equator was considered unimportant, and nobody cared to try to explain it,” says lead author Matija Ćuk, a research scientist at the SETI Institute. “But once we had a big new idea and we looked at it with new eyes, Deimos’s orbital tilt revealed its big secret.”

Source/read more at: Martian Moon’s Orbit Hints at an Ancient Ring of Mars

Phobos orbits Mars at an altitude of only 3,700 miles (6,000 km). Image: ESA

2 Comments Add yours

  1. I don’t think I ever saw that [articular picture of Phobes above Mars. It’s breath-taking!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jason Major says:

      Yeah that’s an interesting one. The surface of Mars appears a little wobbly because of how the spacecraft captured the image, but it’s a nice sense of depth.

      Like

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