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A close encounter between a spacecraft and the Martian “fear” moon reveals strange “scary” structures inside it


The Mars Express spacecraft has penetrated deeper into the Martian moon Phobos than ever before, and found hints of unknown structures that could be clues to the origin of this moon, according to RT.

Mars Express, a 19-year-old veteran spacecraft in orbit around Mars, flew 51.6 miles (83 km) from Phobos on September 22, 2022, and was able to study what’s under the moon’s surface using a program. Developed on its MARSIS instrument (Mars Advanced Subsurface and Ionosphere Radar).

Understanding the internal structure of Phobos could be a key to solving the mystery of its origin, and Andrea Cecchetti, a member of the MARSIS science team at the Italian National Institute of Astrophysics (INAF), noted in a statement: “We are still at an early stage in our analysis. But we’ve already seen potential signs of previously unknown features under the moon’s surface.”

In 1877, American astronomer Asaph Hall discovered two small moons orbiting Mars, which were later named “Phobos” and “Deimos”, meaning “fear” and “awe”, respectively, among the Greeks.

But the excitement, far from “fear” and “horror”, lies in the close encounter with “Phobos”, which was carried out by the European Space Agency’s Mars Express spacecraft, in the run-up to Halloween this year.

A recent flyby of this larger Martian moon provided the perfect opportunity to test one of the spacecraft’s earliest upgrades.

The MARSIS instrument was originally designed to study the internal structure of Mars. As a result, it is designed for use at a typical distance between the spacecraft and the surface of the planet – more than 250 km.

But it recently received a major software upgrade that allows it to be used at much closer distances that could help shed light on the mysterious origin of Phobos.

Andrea said: “During this flight, we used MARSIS to study Phobos at a close range of 83 km, and the approach allows us to study its structure in more detail and identify important features that we would not have been able to see from afar. In the future, we are confident that we can use MARSIS from a distance of more than 40 km, and the Mars Express orbit was tuned to get us as close to Phobos as possible on a few flights between 2023 and 2025, which will give us great opportunities to try.”

“We didn’t know if this was possible, and the team tested a few different variations of the software, with loading of the new software into the spacecraft,” said Simon Wood, a Mars Express flight controller at the European Space Agency’s ESOC Operations Center, who oversaw the loading of the new software into the spacecraft. The final successful modifications to the spacecraft only hours before flight.”

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