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Phobos | Mars Moons

Phobos? Phobos? Why's everybody want to go to Phobos?

Phobos and Deimos are the awesomely strange mars moons. The 1877 discoverer, Asaph Hall was inspired by Greek mythology to cheerfully deem them Phobos (fear) and Deimos (dread). If I discovered the mars moons I would name them something much less depressing, more like pandas. Foo Foo and Moo Moo. Unfortunately my biggest discovery is that I can pick up stuff with my toes.

Phobos is very interesting to me because, for one, it looks like this! Well when it's infrared.

phobos mars moons

phobos mars moons


Yes, Phobos is a weirdo, the duckbilled platypus as moons go. It's one of the least reflective things in our solar system. It's oddly shaped and quite tiny, about 17 miles. Phobos whips around Mars faster than Mars rotates itself. And this fast orbit is slowly decreasing, dooming Phobos to either crash into Mars or break up into pretty rings. It's got a biggo crater called the "Stickney crater", (the cheerful discoverer named it after his wife). I'd be pissed if someone named a giant crater on the doomed 'fear' moon after me.

Phobos also has such a low density that it can't be made of solid rock. In the 50's a Russian astrophysicist even theorized that it was made out of thin sheet metal. Which of course caused quite the controversy because that would suggest Phobos was martian made. But apparently Schklovsky based his calculations on faulty data. So whatever it is it's definitely porous. Right now the going theory is that Phobos and Deimos are captured C-type asteroids.

Oh did I mention it has a monolith? Moon walking Buzz Aldrin mentioned the Phobos monolith on C-Span. And I'd say he's an expert on moons.

"We should go boldly where man has not gone before. Fly by the comets, visit asteroids, visit the moon of Mars. There’s a monolith there. A very unusual structure on this potato shaped object that goes around Mars once in seven hours. When people find out about that they’re going to say ‘Who put that there? Who put that there?’ The universe put it there. If you choose, God put it there.."

Buzz Aldrin

Phobos monolith

phobos monolith

Mission to Phobos!

The Canadian Space Agency wants to land their possible Phobos mission right next to the monolith. And the Russian and Chinese are launching a joint unmanned mission to Phobos at the end of 2011. Guess what else is hitching a ride, LIFE. That is, The Living Interplanetary Flight Experiment. This is actually a huge deal because LIFE is packing a Noah's Arc of 10 extremophile stowaways. The plan is to to see if they make the journey back in one piece to test the idea of panspermia. One of the organisms is a bacteria called Bacillus safensis that is probably already happily living on Mars thanks to a one way ticket on the Mars rovers. Being highly resistant to gamma and UV radiation might make it a little less homesick.

I'm not sure sending our super germs into outer space is cool. What if it crashes? What if there is life and they are allergic to us? Remember smallpox? Hey lets contaminate space so when we find life we won't know if it was there before or if we put it there. The masterminds behind the LIFE mission are The Planetary Society, guess who is on the Advisory council… Mr. Buzz Aldrin.

phobos mars moons

170 moons in the Solar System. What makes this ugly potato so attractive?

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