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LOOK: ExoMars Orbiter Photographs Martian Moon Phobos

Dec 08, 2016 05:01 AM EST
XSP: NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope's Advanced Camera Images
Phobos, a Martian moon, might eventually disintegrate and form a ring around the red planet, according to a new theory by Purdue University scientists. The NASA-funded research indicates that this process of moons breaking apart into rings and then reforming as moons may have happened several times over billions of years.
(Photo : NASA/ESA via Getty Images)

ExoMars' Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) has imaged the Martian moon Phobos as part of the second set of its science instruments test.

TGO is part of the ExoMars mission, a joint endeavor between the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Russian federal space agency Roscosmos. During two orbits between Nov. 20 and 28, the orbiter made the first scientific calibration measurements, ESA said in a statement.

On the first orbit, the orbiter focused on Mars itself. According to ESA, data from the first orbit illustrate the range of observations to be expected once the craft arrives into its near-circular 400 km-altitude orbit late next year. Tests on the first orbit include atmospheric observations, coordination with ESA's Mars Express and NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, and TGO's neutron detector.

On the second orbit, the instruments made a number of measurements of Phobos, Mars' largest moon. Phobos measures 27x22x18 km and orbits the Red Planet at a distance of only 6,000 km.

The camera imaged Phobos on Nov. 26 from a distance of 7,700 km during the closest part of the spacecraft's orbit around Mars, ESA said. A color composite was created out of several individual images captured through several filters, which were optimized to show differences in mineralogical composition seen as "bluer" or "redder" colors in the processed image.

Scientists also created an anaglyph from a stereo pair of images captured, which can be viewed using red-blue 3-D glasses.

"Although higher-resolution images of Phobos have been returned by other missions, such as ESA's Mars Express and NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, this provided a good test of what can be done with our data in a very short time," Nick Thomas, principal investigator of the CaSSIS camera team at the University of Bern, said in a statement.

"The images have given us a lot of useful information about the color calibration of the camera and its internal timing."

The mission will now focus on preparations for aerobraking required to bring the spacecraft towards its near-circular science orbit by the end of 2017. TGO's main scientific goal is to make a detailed inventory of rare gases that make up less than 1 percent of the atmosphere's volume, including methane.

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