How Mars May Become a Ringed Planet

By Warner, Kelsey | The Christian Science Monitor, November 25, 2015 | Go to article overview

How Mars May Become a Ringed Planet


Warner, Kelsey, The Christian Science Monitor


Rings are a common trend in the outer planets of our solar system. The gas giants Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune all have them. And now scientists say rocky Mars might get one, too.

Astronomers have long known that Phobos, the larger of Mars's two moons, is orbiting ever-closer to the Red Planet, by some seven feet each century. Eventually, either by colliding with the Martian surface or disintegrating under tidal drag from the planet's gravitational pull, Phobos will disintegrate. Research into the moon's eventual demise, published Tuesday in Nature Geoscience, concludes that Phobos's remains may form a new ring around Mars.

So when will Phobos put a ring on it? Benjamin Black and Tushar Mittal, planetary scientists at UC Berkeley and co-authors of "The demise of Phobos and development of a Martian ring system," predict that it will happen in 20 million to 40 million years.

Dr. Black and Mr. Mittal write that in the earlier days of the solar system ring formation was not uncommon. Saturn's iconic icy rings for example, come from tidal stripping of "a large, inwardly migrating" piece of satellite space stuff, not all that different from Phobos.

Phobos, called in the paper a "moonlet" because of its relatively small size, is experiencing intensifying tidal pull, according to the researchers, a phenomenon that will cause Phobos to either disintegrate to form a ring, or end in a collision with Mars. …

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