tech2 News StaffApr 08, 2019 16:00:39 IST
Cameras on NASA's Curiosity rover on Mars have captured an amazing new sight: a solar eclipse by both of the Red Planet's moons, Phobos and Deimos.
The MastCam camera on the rover was equipped with special solar filters that allowed the rover to stare directly at the Sun (and solar eclipses) as the two orbiting moons passed between Mars and the Sun, NASA said in a statement.
Curiosity watched and recorded Deimos eclipsing the Sun on 17 March, followed by Deimos nine days later, on 26 March.
The Martians moons are very different compared to Earth's, with the biggest difference being their size. Phobos is 17 miles in diameter, and Deimos even smaller, at just 9 miles. The Earths' Moon, on the other hand, is roughly 3,500 kilometres wide.
Thus, eclipses on Mars look nothing like the ones we see on Earth, where the Moon completely or nearly blots out the Sun at its peak.
The larger of the two Martian moons, Phobos, still manages to cast a shadow on Mars and darken the sky for a very short period of time. A second camera on Curiosity caught a glimpse of this shadow of Phobos on the Martian landscape on 25 March at sunset.
Martian solar eclipses are nothing new or fancy to the mission team as they've been witness too many through the eyes of Curiosity and other rovers in the past, the statement says. Apart from being a pretty cool thing to look at (Who doesn't love an extraterrestrial eclipse?), recording these events also serves a scientific purpose, helping researchers fine-tune what they know about the moon's orbit around Mars.
Phobos and Deimos, despite being tiny, may hold clues to their formation and that of other natural satellites, which makes them interesting prospects for scientific exploration. The Japanese space agency intends to send a mission to Phobos and Deimos in the near future — the Mars Moon Exploration probe, or MMX. The mission involves collecting samples from both moons and returning them to Earth for researchers to study.
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