Deimos, the smallest of Mars’ two moons, may be more like Mars than we realize.
New high-resolution views of the young moon were recently captured by an Emirati spacecraft named Hope. As part of the Emirates Exploration of Mars (EMM) mission, Hope used its onboard instruments to capture never-before-seen views of the space rock.
Mars has two oddly shaped moons – Phobos and Deimos, which are 17 miles and 9 miles in diameter, respectively. Its strange dimensions, small size, and proximity to the asteroid belt have led scientists to believe that both rocky bodies were likely captured asteroids. But thanks to new images beamed by the Hope orbiter, a new theory is emerging.
We get the highest accuracy [images] Hessa Al Matrooshi, science leader of the expedition, says.
The images, which were released at the European Geosciences Union meeting on April 24, help bolster the idea that Deimos formed at the same time as Mars.
After its launch in 2020, the Hope Mars Orbiter will reach the Red Planet in 2021 and spend its time studying the Martian atmosphere. Now that its primary science mission is complete, the spacecraft has enough fuel reserves to launch a secondary mission: observing Deimos in detail.
Hope completed its first flyby of the young moon on March 10, flying just 60 miles above the surface of Deimos. The only other spacecraft to come this close was NASA’s Viking 2 orbiter in 1977, but it carried more rudimentary cameras and scientific instruments.
During its initial flyby, Hope trained all three of its instruments on Deimos, studying the moon in different wavelengths to try to determine its composition. Initial analysis shows that Deimos is more like Mars than the carbon-rich asteroids.
“It looks more like Mars than an asteroid,” says Al Matrooshi, expressing how excited she and her team were when they first saw the images. “Mars was in the background and that was amazing,” she said.
Scientists aren’t quite sure yet how Deimos formed, but they’re convinced that it looks more like Mars than an asteroid, and very different from Mars’ other moon, Phobos. Al Matrooshi said the team did not find an abundance of carbon and organic matter as if Deimos had an asteroid origin. “If there’s carbon or organics, we’ll see spikes at the wavelengths,” she said. “But the data has been very consistent.”
Just like our Moon, Deimos is tidally tethered to Mars, which means that observations of the Moon from the planet’s surface or any spacecraft in low orbit around Mars will always see the same side of Deimos. Fortunately for science, Hope has a very extended orbit that extends 40,000 kilometers above the planet, allowing the Hope spacecraft to observe and photograph the far side of Deimos. These observations will allow the team to analyze the differences between the near and far sides of Deimos to expand on what we know about the Moon and Mars.
Hope observations of Deimos will continue through 2024, Matrooshi says, along with additional Mars observations. “We didn’t want to get a one-time overwatch of Deimos,” she said. “We knew we wanted more.”
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