Astronomy Picture of the Day

Discover the cosmos! Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.

2001 August 18
See Explanation.  Clicking on the picture will download
 the largest version available.

Phobos: Doomed Moon of Mars
Credit: Viking Project, JPL, NASA
Image mosaic by Edwin V. Bell II (NSSDC/Raytheon ITSS)

Explanation: Mars, the red planet named for the Roman god of war, has two tiny moons, Phobos and Deimos, whose names are derived from the Greek for Fear and Panic. These Martian moons may well be captured asteroids originating in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter or perhaps from even more distant reaches of the Solar System. In this 1978 Viking 1 orbiter image, the largest moon, Phobos, is indeed seen to be a heavily cratered asteroid-like object. About 17 miles across, Phobos really zips through the Martian sky. Actually rising above Mars' western horizon and setting in the east, it completes an orbit in less than 8 hours. But Phobos is doomed. Phobos orbits so close to Mars, (about 3,600 miles above the surface compared to 250,000 miles for our Moon) that gravitational tidal forces are dragging it down. In 100 million years or so it will likely crash into the surface or be shattered by stress caused by the relentless tidal forces, the debris forming a ring around Mars.

Tomorrow's picture: Cratered Inferno

< | Archive | Index | Search | Calendar | Glossary | Education | About APOD | >

Authors & editors: Robert Nemiroff (MTU) & Jerry Bonnell (USRA)
NASA Technical Rep.: Jay Norris. Specific rights apply.
A service of: LHEA at NASA/ GSFC
& Michigan Tech. U.