Mars Moons Phobos and Deimos Pass in Front of the Sun, Curiosity Takes Photos

Phobos passes in front of the Sun on Mars 3 photos
Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS
Phobos passes in front of the Sun on MarsDeimos passes in front of the Sun on Mars
Presently, there’s only one operational rover on the Martian surface, after the official demise of Opportunity. The live and kicking machine is called Curiosity, and this March it went hunting eclipses on Mars.
The planet next door has two moons, Phobos and Deimos. Both are far too small to cause a total solar eclipse, but that makes them even more spectacular as they pass in front of the sun.

On March 17, using the Mast Camera (Mastcam) equipped with solar filters, the Curiosity photographed the Deimos, the smallest of the duo, as it transited the Sun’s disc. At 1.5 miles (2.3 kilometers) across, the satellite is obviously incapable of causing an eclipse, so in its case scientists say it was only transiting the Sun.

The other Martian Moon, Phobos, with its larger diameter of 7 miles (11.5 kilometers), caused a bigger disturbance on March 26, and it too was caught on camera by the rover.

The observations made by the Curiosity are helping NASA scientists accurately plot the orbit of each of the two moons. Since humans began exploring Mars, there have been eight observations of Deimos eclipsing the Sun and 40 observations of Phobos.

"More observations over time help pin down the details of each orbit," said in a statement Mark Lemmon, co-investigator with Curiosity's Mastcam from theTexas A&M University.

"Those orbits change all the time in response to the gravitational pull of Mars, Jupiter or even each Martian moon pulling on the other."

Last month, the recently deployed InSIght lander caught an image of dimming daylight on the Martian surface as Phobos passed in front of the Sun. The event happened a few days before Curiosity capturing the satellite on film.

The Curiosity rover is the last surviving member of the trio of rovers sent to Mars. It is a tad bigger than Spirit and Opportunity, being the size of a small SUV.
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About the author: Daniel Patrascu
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Daniel loves writing (or so he claims), and he uses this skill to offer readers a "behind the scenes" look at the automotive industry. He also enjoys talking about space exploration and robots, because in his view the only way forward for humanity is away from this planet, in metal bodies.
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