Mars - Moons

Moons

Mars has two relatively small natural moons, Phobos and Deimos, which orbit close to the planet. Asteroid capture is a long-favored theory, but their origin remains uncertain. Both satellites were discovered in 1877 by Asaph Hall, and are named after the characters Phobos (panic/fear) and Deimos (terror/dread) who, in Greek mythology, accompanied their father Ares, god of war, into battle. Mars was the Roman counterpart of Ares. In modern Greek, though, the planet retains its ancient name Ares (Aris: Άρης).

From the surface of Mars, the motions of Phobos and Deimos appear very different from that of our own moon. Phobos rises in the west, sets in the east, and rises again in just 11 hours. Deimos, being only just outside synchronous orbit—where the orbital period would match the planet's period of rotation—rises as expected in the east but very slowly. Despite the 30 hour orbit of Deimos, 2.7 days elapse between its rise and set for an equatorial observer, as it slowly falls behind the rotation of Mars.

Because the orbit of Phobos is below synchronous altitude, the tidal forces from the planet Mars are gradually lowering its orbit. In about 50 million years, it could either crash into Mars's surface or break up into a ring structure around the planet.

The origin of the two moons is not well understood. Their low albedo and carbonaceous chondrite composition have been regarded as similar to asteroids, supporting the capture theory. The unstable orbit of Phobos would seem to point towards a relatively recent capture. But both have circular orbits, very near the equator, which is very unusual for captured objects and the required capture dynamics are complex. Accretion early in the history of Mars is also plausible, but would not account for a composition resembling asteroids rather than Mars itself, if that is confirmed.

A third possibility is the involvement of a third body or some kind of impact disruption. More recent lines of evidence for Phobos having a highly porous interior and suggesting a composition containing mainly phyllosilicates and other minerals known from Mars, point toward an origin of Phobos from material ejected by an impact on Mars that reaccreted in Martian orbit, similar to the prevailing theory for the origin of Earth's moon. While the VNIR spectra of the moons of Mars resemble those of outer belt asteroids, the thermal infrared spectra of Phobos are reported to be inconsistent with chondrites of any class.

Mars may have additional moons smaller than 50–100 meters, and a dust ring is predicted between Phobos and Deimos.

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