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Scientists Study Martian Moon Phobos Known as 'Death Star' to Save Earth

Oct 14, 2016 04:51 AM EDT
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Understanding the mysterious crater on the Martian moon Phobos, also known as the "death star" may help scientists protect the Earth from potential asteroid impacts.
(Photo : NASA/Getty Images)

Understanding the vast systems of the universe can be beneficial for the Earth. This is also the inspiration for the scientists studying the Martian Moon Phobos also known as the 'Death Star.'

Mars is not short of wildering moons. It's largest satellite Phobos has captured the interest of many. A recent study conducted by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) has found some interesting facts about this particular Martian satellite.

Phobos has a dominant crater on its surface called Stickney, which is 9 kilometers  across. With Phobos at 22 kilometers, the dominant crater is almost half the satellite. This attribute makes Phobos physically similar to Star Wars' devastating and planet-destroying "Death Star." But what makes the crater interesting is that the formation and origin of huge crater such as Stickney remain elusive to researchers.

But the recent study by LLNL has, for the first time, presented a scenario that could give light to the formation of this huge crater on the surface of Phobos. Researchers are studying how an impact this large managed to create a mark on the moon without destroying it all together. This research also nullifies other existing theories about the mysterious crater on the moon's surface.

"We've demonstrated that you can create this crater without destroying the moon if you use the proper porosity and resolution in a 3D simulation," Megan Bruck Syal, one of the paper's author and member of the LLNL planetary defense team said in a statement. "There aren't many places with the computational resources to accomplish the resolution study we conducted," Syal added.

Based on the study, there are several possible combinations of size and speed of the space rocks that could potentially create the same crater found on Phobos. One possible combination is an object at 250-meter across that's traveling at 6 kps. The proposed combinations were derived after former 2D simulations were unable to replicate the effect on Phobos. Former studies failed to include other factors such as the density of the moon and the crust.

This study will directly affect the Earth as it will enhance scientists' understanding of asteroids and space rocks that have a tendency to hit the Earth in the future.

"Something as big and fast as what caused the Stickney crater would have a devastating effect on Earth," Megan Bruck Syal said in a statement. "If NASA sees a potentially hazardous asteroid coming our way, it will be essential to make sure we're able to deflect it. We'll only have one shot at it, and the consequences couldn't be higher. We do this type of benchmarking research to make sure our codes are right when they will be needed most," Syal added.

This study also negates the theory of how the crater formed the parallel grooves on the moon. This study is vital in LLNL in developing its planetary defense team with regard to the use of an open source code called Spheral. This will help to deflect devastating asteroids heading towards the Earth. Thus the comprehensive study of the "Death Star" is vital for the safety of the Earth against potentially harmful space rocks.

Even NASA recognizes the fact that, harmful asteroids may indeed hit the Earth in the future. This is the reason why the agency is improving its understanding of asteroids and the agency's ability to predict impacts with its OSIRIS-REx mission bound to asteroid Bennu to perform a surface mapping and to collect asteroid samples.


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