New Computer Model of Phobos: Martian Moon’s Gravitational Field


Home / New Computer Model of Phobos: Martian Moon’s Gravitational Field

Mars, god of war, imaged with Hubble Space Telescope. Image Credit: NASA/HST

What does Phobos look like? A new computer model of the Martian moon may have the answers.

The moons Phobos and Deimos, fear and panic, are fitting companions for Mars, the god of war. With all the attention that space agencies have paid to studying Mars, the Martian moons have received relatively little attention. With an average radius of just over 11 kilometers, Phobos is the larger of the two moons of Mars. Phobos is also closer to Mars than Deimos. These small seemingly insignificant moons, comparable in size to a city rather than a whole world, pale beside Mars in the public imagination.

Space Missions to Phobos

There are, however, some space missions to Phobos. In November of 2011 a joint Russian-Chinese mission to Phobos, Fobos-Grunt, was launched. The mission planners hoped to be able to land on Phobos and return with a sample from Phobos, but unfortunately the mission failed while it was still in low Earth orbit. Phobos has also been suggested as a staging base for a manned mission to Mars; its proximity to Mars makes Phobos a better choice than Deimos for this purpose. The low mass, and therefore lower surface gravity, of Phobos make the return launch to Earth much easier. Both manned and unmanned landings are simplified and safer if mission controllers know the characteristics of the gravitational field of Phobos.

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