How many moons are there on Mars
Is Mars Losing Its Moons?
The latest data from the European space probe Mars Express shows that the Martian moon Phobos is about to end dramatically.
Forty years ago, the Russian astrophysicist Josef Schklowski speculated whether the two Martian moons were not artificial space stations of an extinct Martian civilization. Although the space age has long since refuted this daring hypothesis, the question of the origin of Phobos (fear) and Deimos (horror) still remains.
The five discoveries of the Martian moons
It is astonishing that Homer already exists in his Iliad, in which he immortalized the mythical world of the ancient Greeks, the red planet with two constant companions. Centuries later, the astronomer Johannes Kepler (1571 to 1630) “discovered” the Martian moons for the second time. He assumed that the divine creation would be reflected in harmonious numerical relationships in the planetary system. Observations showed that Venus has no moon, Earth one, and Jupiter four moons. Consequently, Mars, lying in between, should have two moons. Kepler's reputation, beyond reproach, allowed the Martian moons to find their way into literature, where they were "discovered" a third time. In Gulliver's Travels (1726) the author astonished Swift with precise information on the size and orbit of the Martian moons.
But it wasn't until 1877 that the American astronomer Asaph Hall found the two tiny creatures with a new reflecting telescope at the naval observatory near Washington. Wife Angelina was not entirely uninvolved in this fourth discovery. After Hall wanted to give up rather discouraged after all the unsuccessful searching for many nights, the resolute woman urged her listless husband to persevere. In her honor, the largest crater on Phobos was given her maiden name: Angelina Stickney. It would be another 100 years before the cameras of Mariner 9 and the Viking probes make the photographic, and thus fifth, discovery.
The sixth "discovery" was made by the Russian Phobos 2 mission, which took some high-resolution images of the moon. This mission was lost afterwards. Mission pictures: http://www.solarviews.com/eng/phobos12.htm
Phobos on a death spiral ...
The seventh discovery of the Martian moons is reserved for the European space probe Mars Express. The high-resolution HRSC stereo camera from Germany on board is supposed to record Phobos and Deimos with unprecedented quality.
The first pictures of Phobos come from a distance of less than 200 kilometers with a resolution of about seven meters per pixel. Phobos emerged as a collision-marked, crater-strewn, irregularly shaped and heavily pitted object: a cosmic potato, about 27 x 21.6 x 18.8 kilometers in size, orbiting Mars 9,378 kilometers from its center. Its shape is more like an asteroid. The largest crater, Stickney, is 10 kilometers in diameter. Kilometers long, 100 to 700 meters wide and up to 90 meters deep, parallel channels emanate from it. The question of the origin of the furrows has not yet been clarified. This strange system of furrows is believed to have formed 3.4 billion years ago when the body that created Stickney Crater impacted.
There was another surprise. When the scientists looked at the latest image sequences, they were amazed. Phobos was not in the predetermined place. Rather, it was about five kilometers ahead of its orbit on Mars, according to the German Aerospace Center (DLR). The DLR researchers see in this deviation “signs of an orbital acceleration that is bringing the tiny moon closer and closer to Mars on a spiral path.” In other words: its end is mapped out. It is just not yet clear how the Martian moon will die in about 50 million years. Either it falls on the red planet or the planetary gravitational forces tear it apart beforehand, so that - as a transitional phase - a short-lived Mars ring with phobo fragments is created. In both cases, however, the result is the same. Mars is sucking up one of its moons.
... and Deimos on an escape route
Deimos, on the other hand, is about half the size of Phobos at 11 x 12 x 15 kilometers and covered with a meter-thick layer of dust that covers many small craters. Both Martian moons presumably consist of a material similar to the carbonaceous chondrites, i.e. the most primitive meteorite material, and thus belong to the darkest bodies in our solar system: They are almost black.
Both moons must have been much closer together earlier. There is much evidence of an origin from the ranks of the small bodies of our solar system. Or do the geologically completely underdeveloped Martian moons even represent debris from the formation of the solar system? So do they represent the primitive building material from which planet earth emerged about 4.6 billion years ago, but which then went through a very intensive development?
Approach to Phobos
The first aerospace approach to Phobos failed in 1988. At that time, the Soviet Union launched the interplanetary space probes Phobos-1 and -2 to explore the Martian moon. Fifteen countries and organizations were involved in the spectacular mission, including ESA. At the end of the hot approach phase, Phobos 2 should drop two landers softly on the Martian moon. Phobos 1 was initially lost due to an incorrect control signal from Earth. Phobos 2 suffered a similar fate. When the space probe was already in Mars orbit, transmitting information and images - including from Phobos - the radio link was broken on March 27, 1989. All rescue attempts failed.
Now Russia is making a new attempt. The Federal Cosmos Program of Russia for the period 2006 to 2015 provides for the construction of a Mars probe "Fobos-Grunt" (Phobos soil).
The plan for 2009 is to launch “Fobos-Grunt” with a Soyuz-2 launcher, first to bring it to Mars with the help of an electric drive and then to bring it into orbit around the Martian moon Phobos. It is supposed to land there, take soil samples from a depth of one meter and bring them back to earth. The entire mission will take about two and a half years.
Mecca for world records
The two moons of Mars are interesting targets for visitors. In terms of mass, Phobos and Deimos represent flyweights with correspondingly low gravity. On Phobos, it corresponds to one thousandth of the gravitational pull. A real Mecca for athletes with world record ambitions. Anyone who can jump a meter high on Earth can do about a kilometer on Phobos. But be careful with the approach: the escape speed is 21 km / h. But people who are overweight can breathe a sigh of relief: every kilogram more only adds up to one gram.
For an observer, however, the panoramic view from the Phobos surface to the deceptively close, glowing red mother planet should be even more impressive. One of the most fascinating views of our solar system opens up to him! While the observer races around the red planet on the natural spaceship Phobos in 7 h 39 min, he experiences the grandiose spectacle of Mars rising and setting in all phases, from full Mars to the narrow sickle and back again. Well then, off to the neighboring planet.
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