SEP 11, 2016 09:37 AM PDT

Scientists Predict the Origin of a Strange Trail of Craters on Phobos

A team of researchers from UC Santa Cruz, led by Michael Nayak, have been studying the strange chain of craters that appear on the surface of Mars’ closest-orbiting satellite: Phobos.
 
Their findings have been published in the journal Nature Communications.
 

The odd chain of craters on Phobos' surface.

 Image Credit: ESA/Mars Express, modified by Nayak & Asphaug

Phobos is a moon of Mars, and it orbits the red planet more closely than any other known satellite orbits any other planet in our solar system. At just 5,600 miles above the planet’s surface, it completes an orbit around the red planet in less than seven hours, and it also falls within something known as the Roche Limit.
 
Inside of the Roche Limit, a satellite is theoretically too close to its host planet to stay in-tact. In fact, the gravitational forces at work should theoretically be so detrimental to the moon that it experiences tidal forces strong enough to erode and crumble the moon over time.
 
Evidence for this is seen across Phobos’ surface, where the moon is lumpy and disfigured and probably being warped by the strong gravitational forces. Ruptures in the surface and stress cracks are seen all over it.
 
The chain of craters, on the other hand, is observed in almost a straight line across the moon’s surface, and scientists have been experimenting with computer models to figure out just how they might have formed.
 
It turns out that Phobos isn’t exactly a large moon; in fact, at just under 14 miles across, it has a very weak gravitational pull, and this means it’s really easy for objects to slam into Phobos and bounce up to become airborne again.
 
When it managed to escape Phobos’ gravitational cling, it eventually gets re-captured by the moon’s gravity as the moon orbits the red planet. During this process, the object hits the moon in new places, which could be responsible for this strange chain of craters.
 
"A lot of stuff gets kicked up, floats for a couple of orbits, and then gets recollected and falls back in a linear chain before it has a chance to be pulled apart and disassociated by Mars' gravity," Nayak said. "The controlling factor is where the impact occurs, and that determines where the debris falls back."
 
The computer models the researchers created based off of what we know about the moon’s strange qualities seem to match the actual chain of craters on the moon’s surface, suggesting that the researchers may have a solid theory.
 
They also concluded that because Phobos is the closest-orbiting satellite in the solar system, it may be the only place in the solar system that has the characteristics for these kinds of things to happen the way they do.
 
Source: Phys.org

About the Author
  • Fascinated by scientific discoveries and media, Anthony found his way here at LabRoots, where he would be able to dabble in the two. Anthony is a technology junkie that has vast experience in computer systems and automobile mechanics, as opposite as those sound.
You May Also Like
JUN 13, 2018
Space & Astronomy
JUN 13, 2018
NASA's Opportunity Rover Falls Silent Amid Worsening Martian Dust Storm
If you weren’t already aware, NASA’s solar-powered Opportunity rover is in a bit of a pickle right now. A continent-sized dust storm enveloped...
JUL 08, 2018
Space & Astronomy
JUL 08, 2018
NASA Engineers Install Revolutionary Heat Shield on the Parker Solar Probe
Despite all the things we’ve learned about the Sun over the years, we still have much to learn. Fortunately, NASA plans to send a specially-made spac...
AUG 08, 2018
Space & Astronomy
AUG 08, 2018
Here's Why NASA is Sending a Probe to the Sun
An upcoming NASA probe will fly closer to the Sun than any before it. Known as the Parker Solar Probe, this spacecraft will study the Sun and many of its q...
AUG 12, 2018
Space & Astronomy
AUG 12, 2018
NASA's Parker Solar Probe Rockets Toward the Sun
There’s been some serious hype regarding NASA’s Parker Solar Probe in recent memory, but now all that hype is now closer than it ever has been...
AUG 29, 2018
Neuroscience
AUG 29, 2018
Are Women's Brains Protected From Cosmic Rays?
Going to space is a dream for many. Astronauts are viewed almost as superheroes, but the dangers of space travel cannot be underestimated. On long trips, s...
SEP 16, 2018
Space & Astronomy
SEP 16, 2018
NASA Launches ICESat-2 Satellite to Study Earth's Ice Loss with Lasers
A United Launch Alliance-branded Delta II rocket took to the skies from a Vandenberg Air Force Base, California-based launch pad on Saturday to deploy NASA...
Loading Comments...