Destruction of Mars's Moon Could Lead to Saturn-Like Rings

Monday, 23 November 2015 - 2:40PM
Astrophysics
Mars
Monday, 23 November 2015 - 2:40PM
Destruction of Mars's Moon Could Lead to Saturn-Like Rings
Earlier this month, NASA reported that Mars's moon Phobos is gradually falling apart. Now, scientists from UC Berkeley have calculated that this inevitable destruction could lead to a ring system around Mars that will make it look suspiciously like a red version of Saturn.

NASA recently found that the long grooves on Phobos's surface likely mean that the entire moon is fracturing into pieces. Mars's gravity is pulling the moon closer and and closer to it, approximately 6.6 feet every century, which produces potent tidal forces within the moon. As a result, it is expected that Phobos will experience a complete self-destruction within 30 to 50 million years.

If and when that happens, the debris from the moon's failure could form rings around Mars, according to research published in Nature. A comparable mechanism formed Saturn's rings millions of years ago, and the rings that surround Mars would look somewhat similar, but not exactly the same.

Opening quote
"Compared to Saturn's rings, we expect a future Martian ring to be much smaller and contain much less material," co-author Benjamin Black, a geologist at Berkeley, told Popular Science. "But because that material will be spread over a smaller ring area, we predict that the initial density of a ring formed from the breakup of Phobos could rival or exceed the density of Saturn's rings."
Closing quote

There's also a chance that Phobos could collide with Mars rather than experience a tidal breakup. But according to the researchers' calculations, this is a less likely scenario, as the forces holding Phobos together internally are not very strong. If the moon crashes into Mars, it would devastate both bodies, but even if Phobos experiences tidal breakup, some of the larger pieces of debris could cause new craters on Mars. Either way, the demise of Phobos seems inevitable, and the formation of Saturn-like rings very likely.
Science
Space
Astrophysics
Mars

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