Close encounter with the mysterious Moon of Mars

(ORDO NEWS) — ESA’s Mars Express spacecraft flew around Mars’ moon Phobos ahead of Halloween and tested one of its latest upgrades.

The MARSIS instrument used on Mars Express was designed to study the internal structure of Mars. Initially, it could be used at a distance of about 250 kilometers from the surface of the planet.

But it recently received a major software update that allows it to be used at much closer ranges, which could help shed light on Phobos’ mysterious origins.

“During this flight, we used MARSIS to study Phobos from a distance of up to 83 kilometers,” said Andrea Cicchetti of the MARSIS team at INAF.

“The zoom allows us to study its structure in more detail and reveal important features that we would never be able to see from afar.

We are confident that in the future we will be able to use MARSIS from a distance closer than 40 km.

The Mars Express orbit has been fine-tuned so that we can get as close to Phobos as possible on several flights between 2023 and 2025, so we’ll have a good opportunity to try.”

“We didn’t know if it was possible,” said Simon Wood, Mars Express flight controller.

“The team tested several different software options, and the final, successful settings were uploaded to the spacecraft just a few hours before the flyby.”

MARSIS sends out low frequency radio waves using a 40m antenna. Most of these waves are reflected from the surface of the body under study, but some pass through it and are reflected from the boundaries between layers of different materials below the surface.

By studying these signals, scientists can map the internal structure and calculate the thickness and composition of the material.

The internal structure of Phobos is a big mystery, and the update could provide important information.

“The question of whether the two small moons of Mars are captured asteroids, or whether they are made of material that broke away from Mars during the collision, remains open,” says ESA Mars Express scientist Colin Wilson.

“Their appearance suggests they were asteroids, but the way they orbit Mars suggests otherwise.”

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