Phobos, the larger of the two natural satellites of Mars, is on its crash course toward the planet and may one day disintegrate and form a ring around the Red Planet, scientists say.
Rings are quite common in planets of our solar system. Neptune, Uranus, Saturn, and Jupiter and all have them.
According to the astronomers, Phobos is orbiting closer and closer to Mars by about seven feet (2.13 metres) every one hundred years. The moon will eventually disintegrate, either due to the tidal drag from the Red Planet’s gravitational pull, or by colliding with the surface of Mars.
In a new research – published November 24 in Nature Geoscience – scientists concluded that the remains of Phobos (after the moon’s demise) may form a ring around Mars.
Benjamin Black, a postdoctoral scholar in the Department of Earth and Planetary Science at the University of California, Berkeley, and Tushar Mittal, a planetary scientist at University of California, Berkeley, predict that the disintegration of Phobos and the development of the Marian rings will occur in approximately 20 to 40 million years.
Researchers wrote in the paper that Phobos, which they call “moonlet” because of its small size, is pulled in by Mars, and will eventually end in a collision with the Red Planet, or will disintegrate to form a ring.
Mapping of Phobos and a geologic analysis shows that the moon is made of heavily damaged and lose materials. According to Black, this means that the ring will not last for a very long time – approximately 106 to 108 million years – before falling form Mars’s orbit onto the planet’s surface.
When Mars first came into existence it was a warm and watery planet, but the sun stripped the planet’s atmosphere a long time ago, and left behind the not so human-friendly Red Planet we know today.
Scientists may better understand how moons helped shape our solar system, by looking at the evolution of Phobos, Mittal and Black wrote in their paper.
A Discovery mission of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), which sends spacecrafts to gather and bring back data on the solar system, may help scientists better understand the fortitude and structure of Phobos.
Phobos is the last natural satellite of our solar system that is spiralling inward, scientists say.
Image Source: space