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On May 12, 2016, the Hubble Space Telescope captured a series of images of Mars and in them the planet’s moon Phobos can be seen appearing from behind the western limb. This was just 10 days before opposition which, in 2016, was the closest Mars had been to Earth since 2005, lending particularly good opportunity for picking out its largest—yet still quite small—moon.
It may be in its 14th year on Mars but Opportunity still has some surprises to show us—like this, a series of images captured on May 3, 2017 showing the Sun as seen from Mars. But that’s not the special part: see the change in brightness along the Sun’s edge near the end? That was a brief transit of Phobos, the largest (and nearest) of Mars’ two moons!
Can’t see it very well? It’s quick, I know—so check out a cropped and enlarged version below:
Do you love to look up at the Moon? Well so does NASA’s Curiosity rover! Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong (I have not confirmed this) but this appears to be an image of Phobos, the larger of Mars’ two small moons, imaged by Curiosity’s Mastcam on mission Sol 1002 (June 1, 2015). I spotted it while looking though some raw images on JPL’s MSL mission page.
Phobos is a very small world, only about 16 miles (26 km) across, and orbits Mars at about 3,700 miles (6,000 km) altitude. Curiosity has imaged it before, once actually crossing in front of the Sun during an eclipse event on Aug. 20, 2013.
Both Phobos and its smaller, more distant sibling Deimos have been imaged together by Curiosity as well, during an occultation on Aug. 1, 2013. See an animation of those observations here.
Planned observations of Phobos help scientists more precisely determine its orbit.
See a color image of Phobos acquired by the HiRISE camera aboard Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter here.
After much anticipation, this just in: an amazingly detailed image from the March 7 flyby of Phobos!
As Phil Plait might say, click to emphobosize. 😉
See more info and a couple more similar images on the ESA’s Mars Express site.
Phobos sure has an interesting surface texture. It’s almost as if boulders have been bouncing across its surface in one direction, leaving trails of soft-edged depressions. Also I’m wondering what’s been discovered about it’s supposedly porous consistency…stay tuned for more info.
ADDED 3/16: Here’s another new image of Phobos, looking “down” onto it’s north pole. Released today.
Image credit: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin (G. Neukum)
UPDATE: Some information from the Mars Express team on the possible origins of Phobos’ unique grooved surface.
No need to fear, Phobos is here! (That’s a particularly bad pun on Phobos being the Greek god of fear……er…nevermind.) Yesterday’s flyby of Mars’ tiny moon was a success, as the animation below shows using actual data from the event. This latest pass only utilized the ASPERA instrument, which studies the way Phobos interacts with solar radiation, but the next seven flybys – the first of which will be on the 7th – will have the cameras turned on so we can get some images to look at. But for now, we have this animation as an appetizer. Bon appétit!
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Follow the progress of the flybys on the ESA’s Mars Express blog site.