July 3 Astronomy Picture of the Day

Discover the cosmos! Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.

2022 July 3

Phobos: Doomed Moon of Mars

Image Credit: HiRISEMROLPL (U. Arizona)NASA

Explanation: This moon is doomed. Mars, the red planet named for the Roman god of war, has two tiny moons, Phobos and Deimos, whose names are derived from the Greek for Fear and Panic. These martian moons may well be captured asteroids originating in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter or perhaps from even more distant reaches of our Solar System. The larger moon, Phobos, is indeed seen to be a cratered, asteroid-like object in this stunning color image from the robotic Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, with objects as small as 10 meters visible. But Phobos orbits so close to Mars – about 5,800 kilometers above the surface compared to 400,000 kilometers for our Moon – that gravitational tidal forces are dragging it down. In perhaps 50 million years, Phobos is expected to disintegrate into a ring of debris.