The surface of Phobos will provide a glimpse into the past of Mars

(ORDO NEWS) — The Mars satellite Phobos, as it orbits the planet, passes through a stream of charged atoms and molecules emanating from the atmosphere, new research shows.

Many of these charged particles, ions of oxygen, carbon, nitrogen and argon, have left the planet and retreated into space over billions of years, while Mars gradually lost its atmosphere. Some of these ions, according to the predictions of a team of scientists led by Quentin Nénon from the Space Science Laboratory at the University of California at Berkeley, USA, bombarded the upper layer of Phobos’ surface and may well remain in it.

This, in turn, means that when analyzing soil samples from the surface of Phobos in laboratories on Earth, one can obtain information about the evolution of the Martian atmosphere. At one time, the atmosphere of Mars was thick enough to support the existence of liquid water on the surface, while today the density of the Red Planet’s atmosphere is less than 1% of the density of the Earth’s atmosphere.

The origin of Phobos is still a mystery to scientists, so the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) is preparing to send a probe called the Martian moons Exploration (MMX) probe to this satellite of Mars, which is 100 times the diameter of the Moon, in 2024 to collect soil samples and return them to Earth. As Nenon shows in his study, in the event of a probe landing on the side of Phobos, which is constantly facing Mars, the selected soil samples will carry the ions of the Martian atmosphere, injected into it when Phobos passes through the flow of the atmosphere of the Red Planet flowing into space.

Nenon and his colleagues made their conclusions by analyzing the parameters of the movement of ions in Phobos orbit using the Suprathermal and Thermal Ion Composition instrument (STATIC) of the MAVEN orbiting spacecraft. By separating the heavy ions of the Martian atmosphere from light solar ions, scientists were able to estimate the flux density of particles coming from Mars, and through it – the depth to which these ions could penetrate into the upper soil layer of Phobos. According to Nenon, this depth is no more than a few hundred nanometers.

Obtaining information about the parent planet through the study of its satellites is a very common approach in astronomy – so the surface of the Moon, which, unlike the surface of our planet, is not subject to the erosional effects of water and atmosphere, keeps many traces of ancient changes that took place in the early solar system. which also had a great impact on the Earth.

The study is published in the journal Nature Geoscience.


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