Academic journal article Science Scope

Mars to Lose Its Moon but Gain a Ring

Academic journal article Science Scope

Mars to Lose Its Moon but Gain a Ring

Article excerpt

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In 20 to 40 million years, Mars's largest moon, Phobos, will likely shred and the pieces will form a ring around the planet, similar to the rings encircling Saturn and Jupiter.

New research concludes that Phobos will not be able to resist the tidal forces that will pull it apart when it approaches Mars. Just as Earth's Moon pulls on our planet in different directions, which raises tides in the oceans, Mars tugs on different parts of Phobos. As Phobos approaches Mars, the tugs are enough to actually pull the moon apart, the research shows, because it is highly fractured, with lots of pores and rubble. The rubble would then form a ring around the planet.

Although the largest chunks would eventually spiral into the planet and produce craters, the majority of the debris would circle the planet for millions of years until these pieces too would drop onto the planet. If Phobos is torn to shreds, Mars will be left with only one other moon, Deimos.

To estimate the strength of Phobos, the researchers looked at data from similarly fractured rocks on Earth and from meteorites that struck Earth and have a density and composition akin to Phobos. They also constrained the strength of Phobos based on results from simulations of the 10 km diameter Stickney impact crater, which formed when a rock rammed into Phobos.

Once the researchers determined when and how tidal forces would tear Phobos apart, they modeled the evolution of the ring, adapting techniques developed to understand Saturn's rings. …

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