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Category Archives: Moons

Meet Metis – Jupiter’s Closest, Quickest Moon

Processed raw image of Metis captured by NASA’s Galileo spacecraft in 1997. (NASA/JPL/Jason Major)

Everyone’s heard of Jupiter’s four most famous moons Europa, Io, Callisto, and Ganymede—we’ve known about them for over 400 years, thanks to Galileo—but giant Jupiter has many more moons than that. To date there are thought to be 69 natural satellites orbiting Jupiter. 53 are officially named, while 16 are awaiting further confirmation. So you’d be forgiven for not being immediately familiar with all of them…it’s a big Jovian family!

The little world seen above is one of Jupiter’s smaller and lesser-known satellites and it holds a particular distinction. It’s called Metis (pronounced like “meet” in the present tense, not “met” in the past) and it’s only about 37 miles across and 21 miles high. It is the closest moon to Jupiter, orbiting within the planet’s main ring (yes, Jupiter has rings) at a distance of about 80,000 miles. It’s also Jupiter’s speediest moon—at 70,500 mph it completes a single orbit in just over 7 hours. That’s almost three hours less than a Jovian day!

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ESA Grabs Glimpses of Mars’ Groovy Moon

This animation is comprised of three images acquired by ESA’s Mars Express spacecraft on Sept. 12, 2017 with its High Resolution Stereo Camera (HRSC). It shows parts of the grooved and pitted surface of Phobos, the larger of Mars’ two natural satellites.

The original images were captured in greyscale; I added color based on other images of Phobos taken by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter in March 2008.

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THEMIS Takes Deimos’ Temperature

Infrared image of Deimos by THEMIS on Feb. 15, 2018 (NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/SSI)

Can you feel the heat? NASA’s Mars Odyssey can see it! This is an image of Mars’ smaller moon Deimos, captured with Odyssey’s THEMIS (Thermal Emission Imaging System) instrument on Feb. 15, 2018. Part of the 7-mile-wide Moon was in shadow, but the sunlit surface area reached temperatures up to 200 K (that’s still pretty cold for us, though… –100ºF / -73ºC!)

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Have No Fear, Phobos is Here!

Mars and Phobos imaged by Hubble on may 12, 2016. Credits: NASA, ESA, and Z. Levay (STScI), Acknowledgment: J. Bell (ASU) and M. Wolff (Space Science Institute).

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.

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These Are Our Best Pictures of Mars’ Smallest Moon

Mars’ smallest moon Deimos imaged by HiRISE on Feb. 21, 2009. (NASA/JPL/University of Arizona)

Mars isn’t a planet well-known for its natural satellites but it actually does have two small moons. The larger, Phobos, is an irregularly-shaped, heavily grooved and cratered world only about 17 miles (27 km) across at its widest. It orbits Mars so closely that it completes 3 orbits every day, and isn’t even visible from some parts of the planet. But Phobos has an even smaller companion in orbit: Deimos, which at the most 7.5 miles across is half Phobos’ size. Deimos orbits Mars much further away as well, taking about 30 hours to complete one orbit.

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