March 3, 2010

Mars Express Passes by Phobos

The Mars Express spacecraft, built by the European Space Agency, flew by the Martian moon Phobos on Wednesday March 3. The pass was just 67 km (42 miles) away from the surface of Phobos, the shortest pass ever to the moon.

The goals of the flyby of Phobos was to learn about the structure of the moon. The Mars Express spacecraft measured the small deviations to its motion from the gravitational field of Phobos. These measurements are extremely small and require a great amount of precision. The gravitational field experienced by the spacecraft is just a billionth of that it would experience on the Earth's surface. Even taking pictures from this extremely close pass was not allowed, since moving the shutter of the camera, among other movements, would change the measurements taken by the spacecraft.

Phobos is one of the two moons of Mars, both of which are characterized by their small and irregular shape. Their masses are not large enough to have made a round sphere during their formations, and they are instead lumpy and potato shaped.

No comments:

Post a Comment