Skip to main content

Another Side of Phobos

Today the camera eyes of the European Space Agency's Mars Express spacecraft will scrutinize the oddly shaped and pockmarked Phobos, as it makes its closest ever pass by the largest of Martian moons, gliding a mere 60 miles above its surface.

The spacecraft will use all of its high-tech tricks to perform a thorough examination, taking 3-D images, mapping with a high-resolution camera, making precise measurements of the Phobos' mass and composition, and unleashing its subsurface probing radar to study the the moon's insides. But Mars Express isn't done yet. It will travel again pass Phobos two more times this summer, collecting a wealth of new data.

Researchers are interested in Phobos because it is seen as a feasible compromise between sending astronauts to the moon, an extremely difficult but already accomplished feat, and sending astronauts to Mars, in what is likely to be a very dangerous, long, and tedious mission.

But that doesn't mean that Phobos is the back-up guy, the stand-in for space exploration. Aside from a considerably less risky mission, Phobos may be more interesting than previously thought. Some Scientists believe the moon might be harboring ice underneath its cratered surface. Plus, the origins of Phobos (along with Deimos- the other Martian moon) still aren't clear.

It is unknown if the moons were created at the same time as Mars, or if they are asteroids that wandered into Martian orbit later, in which case Phobo's exploration would be especially fruitful. Asteroids are known for having have lots of rich metals like metallic iron and nickel.


Popular Posts

How 4,000 Physicists Gave a Vegas Casino its Worst Week Ever

What happens when several thousand distinguished physicists, researchers, and students descend on the nation’s gambling capital for a conference? The answer is "a bad week for the casino"—but you'd never guess why.

Ask a Physicist: Phone Flash Sharpie Shock!

Lexie and Xavier, from Orlando, FL want to know: "What's going on in this video ? Our science teacher claims that the pain comes from a small electrical shock, but we believe that this is due to the absorption of light. Please help us resolve this dispute!"

The Science of Ice Cream: Part One

Even though it's been a warm couple of months already, it's officially summer. A delicious, science-filled way to beat the heat? Making homemade ice cream. (We've since updated this article to include the science behind vegan ice cream. To learn more about ice cream science, check out The Science of Ice Cream, Redux ) Image Credit: St0rmz via Flickr Over at Physics@Home there's an easy recipe for homemade ice cream. But what kind of milk should you use to make ice cream? And do you really need to chill the ice cream base before making it? Why do ice cream recipes always call for salt on ice?