Mars’ tiny moon Phobos looms against the background of the Sun in spectacular solar eclipse footage captured by the Perseverance rover. The shooting took place on April 2, 2022, when the rover made a short stop on the way to the ancient delta of the dried-up river of the Jezero crater. During a short break, the device observed a tiny moon passing against the background of the Sun.
“These observations can help scientists better understand the orbit of Phobos. And also how its gravity affects the Martian surface, eventually forming the crust and mantle of the Red Planet,” said representatives of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Southern California, which manages the Perseverance mission.
Observations of solar eclipses were also carried out by other vehicles on Mars, for example, Curiosity. But Perseverance received a powerful Mastcam-Z video camera capable of capturing this event with the highest frame rate, which was not previously available to other rovers.
Facts about Phobos
Phobos is about 157 times smaller than the Earth’s Moon. It is one of the two natural moons of Mars. Researchers say Phobos is in a death spiral over Mars and will probably crash into the surface of the Red Planet in a few tens of millions of years. The other is Deimos – even smaller than Phobos. Scientists believe that Phobos and Deimos may be former asteroids that were captured by the gravity of Mars.
History of observations of Solar eclipses on Mars
During the entire stay of spacecraft and rovers on the Red Planet, several dozen observations of Solar eclipses were made. As of 2022, Curiosity, Opportunity and Spirit have jointly observed 40 eclipses of Phobos and eight passes of the Sun by Deimos.
If Opportunity and Spirit could only take photos, then Curiosity’s advanced capabilities allowed the rover to already shoot videos of solar eclipses. It was black and white, with a low frame rate, but it allowed us to observe the cosmic phenomenon “live”.
Perseverance’s Mastcam-Z has taken an even bigger step forward for space observations. The new video camera was upgraded compared to the systems of its predecessors. A filter similar to sunglasses was installed on it, reducing the intensity of sunlight, allowing scientists to see irregularities and protrusions in the outlines of Phobos, as well as a group of sunspots on the Sun.
Perseverance’s mission is to search for signs of ancient life on Mars, as well as to collect and store dozens of samples that may contain evidence of the existence of fossilized organisms of the Red Planet. NASA and the European Space Agency plan to return these samples to Earth as part of a sample return campaign over the next decade.