The mystery of the moons of Mars remains whole (or almost)

Mars Express give some answers as to the origin of the moons of Mars. When will we have the end of this story?

Phobos is one of the two moons of March, the largest, though very small compared to ours. On its surface, craters… as well as strange scratches. And this moon seems to be inexorably approaching Mars. It could end up shredding into a ring in a few tens of millions of years. All this intrigues astronomers to the highest degree and the Mars Express mission of the European Space Agency (ESA) offers them today some answers.

Mars Express give some answers as to the origin of the moons of Mars

Launched in 2003 to study the internal structure of Marchon board is the instrument Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionosphere Sounding, Marsis of his nickname. The idea was to bombard the Red Planet with low-frequency radio waves to analyze the characteristics of the returned waves and thus determine the structure of the ground and deeper layers.

After a major Marsis software update, astronomers were able to obtain crucial data during the first Mars Express pass near Phobos. “Getting closer allows us to study its structure in more detail and identify important features that we would never have been able to see from further away. In the future, we are confident that we could use Marsis within 40 km – the instrument was originally designed to study Mars at a distance of 250 kilometers –. Mars Express’s orbit has been refined to get us as close to Phobos as possible in a handful of flybys between 2023 and 2025, which will give us opportunities to try“, explained Andrea Cicchetti in an ESA press release.

Do these data allow us to understand the origin of Phobos ? According to astronomers, the moons of Mars could be ancient asteroids captured by the red planet. What their appearance and composition suggest, but not their orbit. They could therefore also be pieces of rock torn from Mars by a collision.

When will we have the end of this story?

With the data taken on September 23, the researchers were able to find signs of surface structure, but above all very interesting underground characteristics: a layered structure which would indicate that Phobos would indeed be an ancient asteroid, but which could also point towards a old “pile of floating rubble”.

Mars Express will make other close passes in the skies of Phobos. Let’s hope that the data obtained will make it possible to know more. Moreover, the mission Martian Moons eXploration (MMX), together with the Japanese Space Agency, will land on Phobos in 2024 to take samples and further refine things. These samples should return to Earth in 2029. Will this help solve the mystery of the moons of Mars? To be continued !

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