Could 12, 2019 – For the primary time, NASA’s Mars Odyssey orbiter has caught the Martian moon Phobos throughout a full moon section. Every shade on this new picture represents a temperature vary detected by Odyssey’s infrared digital camera, which has been finding out the Martian moon since September of 2017. Wanting like a rainbow-colored jawbreaker, these newest observations may assist scientists perceive what supplies make up Phobos, the bigger of Mars’ two moons.
Odyssey is NASA’s longest-lived Mars mission. Its heat-vision digital camera, the Thermal Emission Imaging System (THEMIS), can detect adjustments in floor temperature as Phobos circles Mars each seven hours. Totally different textures and minerals decide how a lot warmth THEMIS detects.
“This new picture is a form of temperature bullseye — warmest within the center and regularly cooler transferring out,” stated Jeffrey Plaut, Odyssey challenge scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, which leads the mission. “Every Phobos commentary is finished from a barely completely different angle or time of day, offering a brand new form of information.”
On April 24, 2019, THEMIS checked out Phobos dead-on, with the Solar behind the spacecraft. This full moon view is best for finding out materials composition, whereas half-moon views are higher for floor textures.
“With the half-moon views, we may see how tough or easy the floor is and the way it’s layered,” stated Joshua Bandfield, a THEMIS co-investigator and senior analysis scientist on the House Sciences Institute in Boulder, Colorado. “Now we’re gathering information on what minerals are in it, together with metals.”
Iron and nickel are two such metals. Relying on how considerable the metals are, and the way they’re combined with different minerals, these information may assist decide whether or not Phobos is a captured asteroid or a pile of Mars fragments, blasted into house by an enormous impression way back.
These current observations gained’t definitively clarify Phobos’ origin, Bandfield added. However Odyssey is gathering important information on a moon scientists nonetheless know little about — one which future missions may need to go to. Human exploration of Phobos has been mentioned within the house group as a distant, future chance, and a Japanese sample-return mission to the moon is scheduled for launch within the 2020s.
“By finding out the floor options, we’re studying the place the rockiest spots on Phobos are and the place the positive, fluffy mud is,” Bandfield stated. “Figuring out touchdown hazards and understanding the house surroundings may assist future missions to land on the floor.”
Odyssey has been orbiting Mars since 2001. It takes hundreds of pictures of the Martian floor every month, a lot of which assist scientists choose touchdown websites for future missions. The spacecraft additionally serves an necessary position relaying information for Mars’ latest inhabitant, NASA’s InSight lander. However finding out Phobos is a brand new chapter for the orbiter.
“I believe it’s an amazing instance of taking a spacecraft that’s been round a really very long time and discovering new issues you are able to do with it,” Bandfield stated. “It’s nice that you would be able to nonetheless use this device to gather groundbreaking science.”
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory manages the 2001 Mars Odyssey mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. THEMIS was developed by Arizona State College in Tempe in collaboration with Raytheon Santa Barbara Distant Sensing. The THEMIS investigation is led by Philip Christensen at Arizona State College. The prime contractor for the Odyssey challenge, Lockheed Martin House in Denver, developed and constructed the orbiter. Mission operations are carried out collectively from Lockheed Martin and from JPL, a division of Caltech in Pasadena.