What lurks under it?

New features

The European Space Agency’s (ESA) Mars Express orbiter may be old – launched in 2003 – but it’s still revealing new clues.

Equipped with a new software upgrade to its Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionospheric Instruments (MARSIS), the veteran spacecraft has now taken a deeper look at Phobos, one of Mars’ moons whose origins remain a mystery to astronomers.

“We are still at an early stage of our analysis,” Andrea Secchetti, a Marsis team member from Italy’s National Institute of Astrophysics, said in a press release. “But we’ve already seen potential signs of previously unknown features under the lunar surface. We’re excited to see the role MARSIS might play in finally solving the mystery surrounding Phobos’ origin.”

mysterious moon

Phobos, along with Deimos, are two small moons of Mars, ominously named after the Greek goddess of fear and panic.

It is noteworthy that both are not particularly similar to the moon. Both are small, Phobos at less than 17 miles in diameter, and appear more like lumpy asteroids than a spherical moon like Earth’s.

These strange and fascinating properties, along with the suspected asteroid-like structures, have long savaged astronomers over their origins.

“Whether the two young Mars moons were captured asteroids or were made of material torn from Mars during the impact is an open question,” Mars Express scientist Colin Wilson said in the statement. “Their appearance suggests they were asteroids, but the way they orbit Mars can be said otherwise.”

moon light

This is where MARSIS comes in. With an antenna over 130 feet in length, MARSIS is capable of emitting low-frequency radio waves that can penetrate the nucleus of Phobos. While many waves do not go beyond the surface, the waves that make them bounce between internal structures and the boundaries of various materials on the interior of the young moon.

Examining these reflections, captured in a “radar chart,” could paint scientists a better picture of Phobos’ subsurface structures, as well as their general composition. Bright lines in the radar indicate fairly harmless surface reflections, but scientists say there is evidence of “less faint reflections” that could be signs of underground structures.

To get to the bottom of this mystery, the European Space Agency will collaborate with the Japan Space Agency to collect samples from the surface of Phobos on the Martian Moon Exploration (MMX) mission, currently scheduled to launch in 2024.

More about Mars: Scientists are looking at Mars for good caves for astronauts to live in

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