NASA’s Perseverance Rover Observes Eclipse of Mars’ Doomed ‘Pope’ Moon

And while it looks like the rover was watching the shadow of a potato cross the red surface of Mars, it’s actually Phobos, one of the two small moons of Mars.

Perseverance observed the 40-second eclipse on April 2. If this sounds much shorter than a typical solar eclipse we might see from Earth when our moon passes in front of the sun, that’s because Phobos is about 157 times smaller than our moon.

The rover continues an 18-year history of robots observing eclipses on Mars that began with NASA’s Spirit and Opportunity rovers in 2004 and was followed by Curiosity capturing the first video of a Martian eclipse in 2019.

Perseverance has provided the best video of this eclipse so far using the zoom capabilities of their mast-mounted camera system.

“I knew it was going to be good, but I didn’t expect it to be this amazing,” Rachel Howson, a Mastcam-Z camera operator at Malin Space Science Systems in San Diego, said in a statement. “It feels like a birthday or a holiday when it arrives. You know what’s coming, but there’s still an element of surprise when you see the final product.”

The video was also captured in color using a solar filter to reduce light intensity, allowing scientists to learn more about Phobos.

“You can see details in the shape of Phobos’ shadow, like ridges and bulges on the moon’s landscape,” Mark Lemmon, a planetary astronomer at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colorado, said in a statement. “You can also see sunspots. And it’s great that you can see this eclipse exactly as the rover saw it from Mars.”

The tidal forces of Phobos’s gravity pull on the Red Planet’s crust and mantle, slightly deforming the Martian rock. In turn, this gravitational force changes the orbit of Phobos.

Observations of the Phobos eclipse help scientists track how the moon’s orbit changes over time and better predict when Phobos’ time will come to an end.

Phobos is essentially doomed and experiences a slow death spiral with each orbit because it is constantly getting closer to the Martian surface. Tens of millions of years from now, it will crash into Mars or break into pieces that will rain down on Mars.

As scientists use eclipse observations to learn more about Phobos, the Perseverance rover has reached its next intriguing target: an ancient river delta in Jezero Crater. The robotic explorer will collect samples from the fan-shaped rocks and sediments on the rim of the crater, created where a river emptied into the crater lake billions of years ago.

“The delta in Jezero Crater promises to be a true geological feast and one of the best locations on Mars to search for signs of microscopic life in the past,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, in a statement. release. “The answers are out there, and Team Perseverance is ready to find them.”

And the Ingenuity helicopter just completed its 26th flight on the first anniversary of its first flight a year ago.

The helicopter will act as an aerial scout while Perseverance explores the delta.

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