MAVEN Observes Mars Moon Phobos in the Mid- and Far-Ultraviolet
In late November and early December 2015, the MAVEN mission made a series of close approaches to the Martian moon Phobos, collecting data from within 186 miles (300 kilometers) of the moon.
Among the data returned were spectral images of Phobos in the ultraviolet. The images will allow MAVEN scientists to better assess the composition of this enigmatic object, whose origin is unknown.
MAVEN’s Phobos observations were made possible because of the special nature of the spacecraft’s orbit, which crosses a large range of altitudes, including those at which Phobos orbits Mars. Periodically, close approaches between the spacecraft and moon occur, representing an opportunity to gather data from close range. Getting so close might seem risky, but there is no real chance of a Phobos impact. Mission planners monitor MAVEN’s orbit carefully, and would execute spacecraft maneuvers if MAVEN came too close to the moon.
Comparing MAVEN’s images and spectra of the surface of Phobos to similar data from asteroids and meteorites will help planetary scientists understand the moon’s origin—whether it is a captured asteroid or was formed in orbit around Mars. The MAVEN data, when fully analyzed, will also help scientists look for organic molecules on the surface. Evidence for such molecules has been reported by previous measurements from the ultraviolet spectrograph on the Mars Express spacecraft.
MAVEN’s principal investigator is based at the University of Colorado’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics, and NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, manages the MAVEN project. Partner institutions include Lockheed Martin, the University of California at Berkeley, and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
The original NASA feature can be located here: http://www.nasa.gov/feature/goddard/2016/maven-observes-phobos-in-ultraviolet«Return to the Features, News, & Events page