Fear passed in front of the sun last week, and a NASA rover watched it fly by.
Mars' moon Phobos, whose name means “fear” in ancient Greek, was captured on camera by NASA's Perseverance rover on February 8. The potato-shaped moon was visible in front of the sun from Percy's current location in Jezero Crater.
Engineers from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) have uploaded 68 images of the solar eclipse to their Perseverance program. Raw images Store. The footage was filmed using the rover's left Mastcam-Z camera, one of two exploratory imagers atop Perseverance's neck-like mast that are often used to get sweeping views of the Red Planet's landscape.
Related: NASA's Perseverance rover captures a 360-degree view of Jezero Crater on Mars (video)
Phobos, first discovered by American astronomer Asaph Hall in 1877, is an asteroid-sized moon orbiting a few thousand miles (or kilometers) above the surface of Mars and continuing to fall toward the planet. It is supposed to eventually disintegrate due to the gravitational forces of the Red Planet.
Phobos and Mars' other moon, Deimos, have a mysterious formation history: Scientists aren't sure whether they came from the asteroid belt, from impacts, from leftover debris from the early solar system or from some other scenario.
No spacecraft have been able to visit Phobos yet, although a fair number have made flybys over the years. However, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) plans to send a Mars Moon Exploration (MMX) mission to Phobos in 2026.
MMX's big mission will be sample return: capturing dust from the first moon and then returning the grains to Earth. The dust may provide more clues about the formation history of Phobos, as well as the Martian atmosphere as gas molecules fly into space and perhaps to Phobos as well.
MMX may thus help unravel the secrets of Phobos and Mars, as scientists are still trying to figure out why the red planet has lost so much of its atmosphere over the eons. The research has implications for habitability and water on Mars, where running water requires a certain degree of pressure. The Perseverance mission will also add to the mix, as it searches for signs of ancient water and habitable conditions.
Like MMX, Perseverance is also a type of sample return mission — but the rover will need help. NASA and the European Space Agency plan to send a sample return mission from Mars to the rover area in the 2030s to capture samples to return to Earth. However, the program took a major hit last week, when the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) laid off several MSR employees due to ongoing budget issues.
MSR is over schedule and budget due to its complexity, and NASA is operating under a standing decision to freeze its spending at 2023 levels until Congress decides on the U.S. budget. Continued uncertainty forced JPL to lay off 8% of its workforce this month, laboratory officials said.