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July 20, 2009

Meet the strange moons of Mars

Posted: 08:00 AM ET

Famous for its reddish color, Mars has long fascinated astronomers, ordinary sky gazers and science-fiction writers.

But its strange, tiny moons also deserve plenty of attention, especially since one of them has been suggested as a way for humans to get to the planet itself.

“To reach Mars, we should use comets, asteroids and Mars’s moon Phobos as intermediate destinations. No giant leaps this time. More like a hop, skip and a jump,” Buzz Aldrin, the second man on the moon, wrote recently in an article in Popular Mechanics. Read more about the moon vs. Mars debate

Phobos is one of two Martian moons, with Deimos keeping it company in space.

Just 13 miles across, Phobos orbits so close to Mars that it may be shattered by the Red Planet’s gravitational tidal forces in about 100 million years, according to NASA.

You can see its battered, pockmarked surface in the photo above, taken by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter last year. The Stickney Crater, which takes up almost half its diameter, is on the lower right.

Some astronomy Web sites call Phobos potato-shaped and that’s a good way to describe it!

Think Phobos is small? Deimos is even tinier, at about 7.5 miles in diameter. If you were to stand on the surface of Mars, it would look light a bright star, NASA says.

And here’s a bit of mythology to add to your astronomy knowledge. You may know that Mars was named after the Roman god of war. So in keeping with the tone, Phobos (“Fear”) and Deimos (“Terror”) were named after the horses that pulled the chariot of Ares, the Greek god of war and the counterpart to Mars.

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Filed under: Astronomy • Mars • NASA • Space

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Andrea   July 20th, 2009 5:26 pm ET

Yes, let's go to Mars! If either one of these little moons can get us there then I am all for their 'help'.

Isn't it ironic :: Most science fiction has had us on Mars long before 2010, but we will be lucky to go there by 2050?

Get with it NASA! Leave off our moon, and on to Mars'!

Susan   July 20th, 2009 8:24 pm ET

I have always been a space fan . . . but how in the world (no pun inended) can anyone (including Buzz Aldrin) suggest that we use asteroids or Phobos as stopping-over points on the way to Mars? Has everyone forgotten that the gravity on these orbs is so small that a person could probably JUMP up on them and go into orbit!

c tyson fisk   July 20th, 2009 8:41 pm ET

Maybe our gov could grant incentives to develop mars mission technologies to smaller business interests thus creating jobs and most of all new energy systems, propulsions, etc. We today enjoy a wide range of gemini era technologies still in use today everywhere... the larest gain would be the enrichment of future generations, children thinking larger than we did, all would benefit from this, we need new technically inclined blood to create strong responsible industries.

madrian edwards   July 20th, 2009 8:58 pm ET

i dont think the sky has no limit.

Mark in Minnesota   July 20th, 2009 9:19 pm ET

The moon? Been there, done that.

Mars or Bust!

Joe   July 20th, 2009 10:12 pm ET

Well it's about time! Why did we wait so long? I'm begining to think that the moon landing was staged. We should go to the moon first so we can run tests and see how our new vehicles work. We might discover more things in the moon before we head to Mars. I'm all for the Mars mission. I'm sure there are many well respected scientists that can make the journey happen. It's very exciting to know how many things we can do in our space exploration. Exploring is what we are about, and we should broaden our curiousity. I understand that the trip will not be cheap, but we should be doing more each trip instead of just maintaining telescopes and satillites. Cant we do more with our space exploration instead of just talking about it? Can anyone tell me what "hunger for knowledge means"? I think this is the reason why some people don't believe we set foot on the moon. How long ago was that? Hmmmmmmmm

BobC   July 20th, 2009 11:33 pm ET

People are more interested in watching Desperate Housewives in Hi Def than in going to Mars. We are doomed.

Jimmay   July 21st, 2009 2:55 pm ET

Yes, let's spend billions, maybe even trillions more while we currently are already trying to fill a large hole. Might as well dig a little deeper, right? Buy some more $10,000 hammers while we're at it too.

Mark   July 21st, 2009 4:23 pm ET

I would rather have our stimulus money go towards exploration of the Moon and Mars than have it go into the pockets of Fat Cat bankers. Think of all the jobs and new technologies that will be created. Building things and exploration is what make our country great and we seem to have lost our way and are only interested in creating money on paper.

Greg Fournier   July 21st, 2009 4:34 pm ET

Phobos is a good intermediate step precisely because its gravity is so low. One could fly from Earth orbit to Phobos and back without needing a lot of return fuel, or without the risk of a landing through the atmosphere of Mars. Also, inside Phobos you would be protected from radiation for long-term stays. I imagine a base established on Phobos, from which (eventually) short missions to and from the Martian surface can be conducted. Even more radical (and perhaps much less practical) would be, at a later date, to slowly "spin up" Phobos so that any facility would have artificial gravity on its outer walls.

Mike   July 21st, 2009 7:11 pm ET

I wonder if the member of the "Flat Earth Society" believe that Mars is also Flat? What what about the moon? Is it also flat?

NObody   July 21st, 2009 11:09 pm ET

It makes logical sense to use these way stations however I think that NASA should look into how the landing and taking off of these bodies will affect their orbits.

By the way, its not NASAs fault that we are not on Mars. Their funding is no where near the amount needed to get there soon. We have the guts and the brains just not the money. Mars is not the only pan on the fire so to speak.

Mike Schwab   July 22nd, 2009 3:21 pm ET

Do not forget that most of the energy required for space travel is just getting into planetary orbit. Only a little bit more propulsion and you can travel to other planets. The big problem with interplanetary travel is carrying enough food water air CO2 cleaning chemicals.

OJohnson   July 23rd, 2009 2:04 pm ET

To Jimmay. If you'd take the time to review the federal budget you would find that NASA's percentage is 1/2 of 1%, or .05%. It's a mere 18.7 billion dollars, a lot less than we've given GM and many of the banks.

Do you realize the benefit to our economy based on NASA research? I would imagine you haven't given it a thought. Telecommunication sattelites, weather sattelites, GPS! What about all of the items created due to the miniaturization of electronics? Cell phones, LCD TV's, MP3 players? All of these things made possible in part because of NASA research.

As for me, to the moon and on to Mars! And double NASA's budget so we can do it faster!

rich   July 23rd, 2009 5:25 pm ET

A space elevator would be a great way to get materials to space and eliminate a majority of the costs of getting out of our atmosphere making it much easier to get to mars, the moon, and anywhere else.

CTF   July 24th, 2009 5:20 pm ET

Think for a moment, instead of just spending without immediate returns, (however this would be hard to undertake for most entertainment conditioned pleasure activist socialist centered minds). We need to go to Mars under maximum responsibility for the human race to prosper. Even though Mars is way out there, it does have advantages the moon does not have. Most important to eventual human habitation, once enough resources are in place robotic-ally. The magnetosphere and atmosphere absorbs highly charged particles of radiation which if exposed poisons humans and all life... Mars and its moons hold the most resources of any in our entire solar system. Our Moon may one day serve as a robotic outpost of mining and storage of vital moon made resources. We could place items in cold storage in still orbit between the earth and moon for easy retrieval later... Expanding outwards to Mars is a way to create jobs but mainly technical ones at first. However, the spillover effect as involvement increases would spread as entropy always and surely will as time goes on. Eventually billions of jobs would be created by this economic engine, from the littlest needs upward, creating jobs for all. Such a program would bring a ROI from known resources from mining: diamonds, gems, gold, heavy metals, remember the Gold rush and homesteading? This was a brilliant way the gov populated and accelerated the early frontier of America... A Mars rush would propel newer cleaner energy systems and enable America to pay off all our international debts. Endless spillover technologies and capabilities would need to be developed; (Americas true strength is under War, why not change the mission to Mars?) Instead of occupying, we shift strategy to defensive / space based surveillance and strike mode best answered from above... America would no longer be the worlds police force being forced to be over involved in the worlds dirtiest of politics as directed under the UN or any passive aggressive creditor Countries. This is one way to also stop USA's unpopularity across the world, by commuting to a new era of space travel and commerce....

Dallas tx,   July 24th, 2009 9:46 pm ET

I think we should adventure out because we have outgrown our own planet. She needs a break...

Go Green Revolution!!!

David   July 26th, 2009 11:07 pm ET

Heck, the astronauts launched golf balls from the moon. We could devise launching systems that could send payloads from there and Phobos into space and down to Mars without huge expenditures of liquid propellants. Perhaps the materials would be for building or supplying spacecraft that would head to Mars and other spots. Of course, the real trick is in the landing. And, people have mentioned radiation: Shielding humans would be absolutely essential and add enormous weight to any vehicle bound for Mars. No sense in heading for Mars if you fry along the way. But we can do it.

Peter   November 18th, 2009 1:32 pm ET

Don't waste money going to Mars. Any expensive technology developed in going to Mars will be obsolete in no time. Meanwhile, the rest of the world would have been busily colonizing the Moon, e.g. China, India, Japan, Russia. Minerals and other commodities mined there and sent back to earth. Even solar power stations could be built on the Moon, providing earth will all its energy needs.

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