The Curiosity Rover snapped pictures of Martian eclipses recently that NASA believes will help scientists better understand the interior structure and composition of Mars. Curiosity took pictures of the tiny moon Phobos last week as the moon eclipsed the sun. Curiosity also took photos of other partial lunar eclipses caused by Phobos and Deimos.
NASA says that scientists will use the photos taken to confirm details on the orbits of Phobos and Deimos precisely and to determine how much those orbits have changed over the years. Details gleaned about the orbits from these photographs could help scientists discover details on the interior of Mars, which is largely unknown at this time. Phobos is a tiny moon that averages only 14-miles wide on average with Deimos even smaller than that.
Scientists believe that both of Mars’ moons are asteroids that were captured by the planet’s gravity long ago. Neither moon has a stable orbit currently. Deimos orbits Mars every 30 hours and is speeding up. Phobos, on the other hand, has an orbit that takes eight hours to make its way around Mars, and its orbit is slowing down. NASA scientists believe Phobos will likely be destroyed by gravity in the next 10 to 15 million years.
Gravitational tidal forces are expected to break Phobos up in orbit before it starts to touch the Martian atmosphere. The breakup of the tiny moon could leave Mars with rings for a brief time. Curiosity is currently getting ready to study a newly discovered pyramid-shaped rock dubbed “Jake Matijevic.”
[via Alaska Dispatch]