Have you ever seen the Martian moon Phobos before? If you have, you’re probably well aware of how funky it looks. If you haven’t, then the best way we can describe it to you is it looks like a Death Star straight from Star Wars because of the massive crater it has.
Image Credit: Viking Project/JPL/NASA
Scientists have been searching for answers to find out just what may have caused that large crater to form on its surface, and now they just might be making headway in discovering the answer to the question astronomers have long wanted to know.
Published in the Geophysical Research Letters, researchers from California’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory have used computer simulations to learn the most likely cause for the crater would have been a type of asteroid impact.
These kinds of simulations have been made before in 2D, but this is the first time scientists have had the computational power to perform this task at the resolutions they did in 3D.
The impact was the result of a porous asteroid that had just enough force to create a massive crater, but not quite enough to shatter the entire moon. Notably, the impact would have sent unpredictably-shaped crack-like patterns through the surface of the entire moon, which disproves the idea that the straight long grooves on the moon were caused by such a collision.
Estimates place the impact object at around 820 feet in diameter, and suggest that it was traveling at around 14,000 miles per hour at the time of the collision.
"We've demonstrated that you can create this crater without destroying the moon if you use the proper porosity and resolution in a 3D simulation," researcher Megan Bruck Syal said in a statement. "There aren't many places with the computational resources to accomplish the resolution study we conducted."
It is worth noting that Phobos has been getting closer and closer to the Martian surface over the years; the impact could have had something to do with that too. There is a chance the moon may either break up in orbit or collide with the red planet in the distant future due to its unstable orbit. If it breaks up, Mars could get a ring; if it collides, well it won't be pretty.
Source: Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory via International Business Times