Is Phobos an asteroid? We might discover out
NASA/JPL-Caltech/College of Arizona
Mars’s twin moons might quickly get a customer. We’ve by no means landed something on Phobos and Deimos, however we’ve got taken photos of their surfaces from orbiters round Mars. Now, a mission headed by JAXA, the Japanese house company, is ready to launch a rover to one in every of these small moons in 2024 – the ultimate vacation spot is but to be determined.
The Martian Moons eXploration (MMX) mission is a spacecraft supposed to orbit each moons. The plan is to enter Mars orbit in 2025 and return samples of the moons to Earth in 2029. JAXA can also be partnering with the German and French house businesses to constructing a rover to discover one in every of them. Will probably be the primary rover to ever land on a minor physique within the photo voltaic system.
“My guess is that they’d go to Phobos except there was some type of spacecraft engineering purpose to not, as a result of it’s an even bigger goal and has extra gravity,” says Tim Glotch at Stony Brook College in New York. Touchdown there might assist us clear up the thriller of the place these moons come from.
There are two main theories: both Phobos was created when an impactor hit Mars, or it may very well be a captured asteroid. “For those who do spectroscopy on it, it’s just like an asteroid’s carbonaceous chondrite materials,” says Glotch. It additionally has a bizarre potato-like form that’s paying homage to some asteroids we’ve seen.
However the particulars of Phobos’s orbit are such that it might be nearly inconceivable for it to have been captured if it was coming in from the asteroid belt, he says. Some knowledge suggests the moon has an identical make-up to Mars, but it surely’s not conclusive.
“A rover might pattern the rocks and inform us what the floor is made out of. If it has minerals which are just like the Martian crust, that might assist that concept, or if it has minerals nearer to carbonaceous chondrites, it may very well be extra like a captured asteroid,” says Glotch.
Not like the asteroids Bennu and Ryugu, the 2 most up-to-date house rocks Japan has despatched spacecraft to discover, Phobos isn’t notably rocky from what we will inform. “It’s principally lined by a fine-grain dusty materials which makes touchdown a bit simpler. It must be comparatively simple to traverse, and there’s loads of secure locations to land on it,” says Glotch.
Understanding how the make-up of those moons will inform us extra about how our photo voltaic system shaped, however might additionally come in useful for future crewed missions to Mars.
“In a few of the potential plans to finally ship people to Mars, Phobos is a waystation. If it finally ends up being volatile-rich, that means we might extract water for gas, that might probably assist human expeditions to Mars,” says Glotch.
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