Martian full moon pictures captured for first time, resembling sweets

James Marshall
May 15, 2019

United States space agency NASA has, for the very first time, captured thermal images of Martian moon Phobos during a full moon phase using its Mars Odyssey orbiter, with the space rock looking uncannily like rainbow-coloured jawbreaker candy. A view of the full moon could help scientists understand what materials make up the Phobos, the larger of Mars' two moons, while half-moon views provide information on surface textures.

NASA's Mars Odyssey has been in orbit of the Red Planet since arriving at Mars in October 2001.

The colours, detected by the orbiter's infrared camera, represent a temperature range. Each observation of the Phobos is taken from a slightly different angle and time of day, providing a new kind of data. Its heat-vision camera, the Thermal Emission Imaging System (THEMIS), can detect changes in surface temperature as Phobos circles Mars every seven hours. Colors Signal Heat On April 24, THEMIS observed Phobos directly, and at that specific time, the sun was positioned behind the orbiter, fully illuminating the Martian satellite.

"This new image is a kind of temperature bull's-eye - warmest in the middle and gradually cooler moving out", Jeffrey Plaut, Odyssey project scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, said in a statement. The image, which depicts Phobos in its full moon phase, gives us one of the best views of this odd moon that we've ever seen. At this point, it is already known that nickel and iron can be found on the surface. Until then, we'll have to gather as much as we can from Odyssey. By analyzing the balance of minerals, researchers can determine the nature of Phobos, which could be a captured asteroid or even an agglomeration of fragments which were pushed into space a significant impact.

The recent findings do not definitively spell out Phobos' mysterious origins however, as Odyssey continues to collect data on a moon that scientists now have very little knowledge of, added Bandfield. But Odyssey is collecting vital data on a moon scientists still know little about - one that future missions might want to visit.

"By studying the surface features, we're learning where the rockiest spots on Phobos are and where the fine, fluffy dust is. Identifying landing hazards and understanding the space environment could help future missions to land on the surface", said Bandfield.

This phenomenon can be credited to how the Red Planet revolves around the Sun in an elliptical orbit, drawing it very close to the star at certain times. The orbiter also served as an important communications relay between Mars and Earth and other robotic explorers.

Because of its small stature, scientists have struggled to properly study Phobos. "It's great that you can still use this tool to collect groundbreaking science".

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