Mars Odyssey Orbiter Shows Off New Photos of Phobos and Deimos
Maybe it's because they're named after the Greek gods of fear and terror, or maybe it's because they'd possibly electrocute us if we tried to land on their surfaces (a more likely explanation), but these arguably make the moons even cooler. Perhaps to ensure they're not forgotten, NASA just released a series of photos showing the twin moons, taken by their Mars Odyssey orbiter this past week.
To give a sense of scale, the moon in the foreground is Phobos at 3,489 miles (5,615 kilometers) away from the orbiter, while the farther moon is Deimos at 12,222 miles (19,670 kilometers) away. You can see the photo progression below:
Martian moons Phobos and Deimos were observed by our Mars Odyssey orbiter on Feb. 18. The celestial bodies appear to be in motion but the fluctuation is due to progression of the camera's movement during the 17-second observation. Take a look: https://t.co/bhvbZCwN4v pic.twitter.com/C1uXU8Hfkz— NASA (@NASA) February 23, 2018
Odyssey took the photo using its Thermal Emission Imaging System, or "THEMIS", and unlike some other images with added effects, these photos were taken using only visible light wavelengths, so this is how the moons would look to the naked eye. Of course, since looking at Phobos and Deimos from Mars' orbit would likely mean you were in a tight spot, it's better that we have the orbiter's photos to look at instead.
The 2001 Mars Odyssey orbiter is one of NASA's oldest creations currently at Mars, circling around the Red Planet while the more modern rovers like Curiosity and Opportunity (and soon, the Mars 2020 rover) driver around the planet's surface. The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter is a slightly more modern contraption in Mars' orbit, and even that's beginning to show signs of age, so the fact that Odyssey is still kicking is impressive.
As dangerous as it could be to visit these moons, NASA and JAXA (Japan's space agency) do have plans to explore Phobos and Deimos more thoroughly. Called the Mars Moon eXploration (with the X capitalized so they can shorten it to "MMX"), the plan is to send a spacecraft close enough to the surface of these moons to collect some rock samples to send back.
Either way, we have plenty more plans for Mars, so expect to see more of the twin moons as our missions there continue.