The solar eclipse caused by the passage of Phobos – Mars’ moon – in front of the Sun presents an epic sight. Witness its appearance.
The event of Phobos crossing the Sun was captured by NASA’s Perseverance rover on Thursday (8/2). The potato-shaped moon was seen in front of the Sun from Perseverance’s current perch in the Jezero crater.
Quoting Space, technicians from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) uploaded 68 images of the solar eclipse to Perseverance’s raw image repository. The footage was filmed using the Mastcam-Z camera located on the left side of the rover, one of two scout cameras mounted on Perseverance’s mast often used to capture landscape images of the Red Planet.
Phobos was first discovered by American astronomer Asaph Hall in 1877. Phobos is an asteroid-sized moon orbiting several thousand kilometers above the surface of Mars and steadily falling towards the planet.
Eventually, this moon will break apart due to the gravitational forces of the Red Planet.
Phobos and Mars’ other moon, Deimos, have mysterious formation histories. Scientists are unsure if they originated from the asteroid belt, collisions, remnants of debris from the early solar system, or from other scenarios.
No spacecraft has yet visited Phobos, although some have performed flybys over the years. However, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) plans to send the Martian Moons Exploration (MMX) mission to Phobos in 2026.
MMX’s major task is to retrieve samples, collect dust from the small moon, and bring its grains back to Earth. This dust could provide more clues about Phobos’ formation history, as well as Mars’ atmospheric history since gas molecules escape into space and possibly reach Phobos.
Thus, MMX could help unravel the mysteries of Phobos and Mars, as scientists continue to try to understand why the Red Planet has lost so much of its atmosphere over thousands of years.
This research has implications for the habitability and water on Mars, as flowing water requires certain surface pressures. The Perseverance mission will also add to this extensive list of research, as it seeks signs of ancient water and habitable conditions.
Like MMX, Perseverance is also a sort of sample return mission – but this rover will need assistance. NASA and the European Space Agency plan to send a Mars sample return mission to the rover’s area in the 2030s to collect samples for return to Earth.
However, this program suffered a major setback last week when JPL laid off many MSR employees due to budget issues.
MSR has exceeded schedule and budget due to its complexity, and NASA operates under a continuing resolution freezing its spending at 2023 levels until Congress completes the US budget. Ongoing uncertainty has forced JPL to lay off 8% of its workforce this month, laboratory officials said.