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Giant Impact: Solving the Mystery of How Mars' Moons Formed

Jul 06, 2016 12:04 AM EDT

Mysteries cloak the origin of two Martian satellites Phobos and Deimos, but two recent studies concur that the moons were formed by a giant collision contradicting former beliefs that the moons were asteroids captured by the Martian orbital force.

The shape and orbit of the moons were factors considered during the study. The capture of an asteroid was also ruled out by the study suggesting that a giant impact is the only plausible scenario that resulted in the formation of both satellites. The surface of both moons  helped the researchers to arrive at their finding.

The confusion about the origin of the moon came about due to the oddly shaped moons called Phobos or "fear" and Deimos, which mean "terror", according to the Guardian. The odd moons once believed to be asteroids, are only 22 km and 12 km in diameter.

While the second study utilized innovative digital simulations to illustrate how the moons formed from the debris of a giant impact or collision between Mars and a smaller protoplanet that is one-third of its size.  

One of the studies will be published in the Astrophysical Journal, the one that proves that the satellites weren't mere asteroid captured by the planet's force. Meanwhile, the digital manipulations are the product of a collaborative work of researchers from CNHR, Université Paris Diderot and Royal Observatory of Belgium, their work was published in the journal of Nature Geoscience on July 4.

The asteroid-looking moons and their equatorial orbits made the moons, Phobos and Deimos controversial and intriguing. The mystery of their origin had confused researchers for a long time. Some experts are questioning whether such impact could indeed create debris as large as the Earth. So other theory started to emerge suggesting that Phobos and Deimos formed almost at the same time as Mars; it could also mean they have the same components as their host planet. But with the two latest works, the theory that says there was a giant collision looks more feasible than the rest.

The second study, where illustrations were shown, a "coherent scenario" was presented for the first time with the help of Belgian, French and Japanese researchers. The formation of satellites, Phobos and Deimos could have occurred between Mars and a smaller protoplanet 100 to 800 million years after the formation of the planet, according to Science Daily.

Because of the latest data, new missions will be launched to further scrutinize Phobos and Deimos. Japan Space Agency (JAXA) will launch its mission in 2022 called Mars Moon Exploration (MMX) and is expected to yield results in 2027. While the European Space Agency (ESA) is also planning to launch a similar probe in 2024.


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