The formation of this comparatively huge crater would have involved an impact which almost shattered the little satellite. High resolution images of Stickney, obtained by Mars Global Surveyor and other Mars probes, have shown it to be filled with fine dust and have provided evidence of boulders sliding down its steep sides. Material around Stickney's rim is bluer than elsewhere on the moon's surface, as can be seen in the false-color image below taken by Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The lighter, bluer color suggests that the material is younger, or more freshly exposed to space than the rest of Phobos's surface.
Phobos also has other scars that indicate a violent past. Much of its surface is gouged by parallel troughs and pockmarked by chains of craters. These may be have been caused by debris thrown out by meteorite impacts on Mars.
The temperature of Phobos varies between about -4°C (25°F) on the sunlit side of the moon and -112°C (-70°F). Like Deimos, Phobos has the dark appearance of C-type asteroid and may well be such an object that was captured by the gravitational field of its primary in the remote past.
Since Phobos orbits around Mars faster than the planet itself rotates, tidal forces are slowly but steadily decreasing its orbital radius, by about 1.8 meters per century. Some 50 million years from now Phobos will crash into Mars surface or be broken apart before that, possibly to form a ring, when it falls within the planet's Roche limit. Deimos, on the other hand, is far enough away that its orbit is being slowly boosted instead.
Future explorationIn 2009, Russia plans to launch a robot probe to Phobos to carry out a sample return mission. There have also been suggestions that the little moon would make an ideal manned outpost. Its extremely low surface gravity, less than one-thousandth that of Earth, would require a far smaller expenditure of fuel for landings and take-offs. Furthermore, meteorite impacts may also have blasted samples of Martian rock onto the surface of Phobos, where astronauts could easily collect them and bring them back to Earth.
Phobos in science fiction
Related categories MARS TOPICS
PLANETS AND MOONS
Home • About • Copyright © The Worlds of David Darling • Encyclopedia of Alternative Energy • Contact