UAE Martian Orbiter Takes Epic Photo Of Martian Moon

Deimos, the smaller of Mars’ two moons, may be more like its planet than we think.

New high-resolution views of the tiny moon were recently captured by a United Arab Emirates spacecraft named Hope. Part of the Emirates Mars Mission (EMM), Hope used its onboard instruments to capture never-before-seen views of space rock.

Mars has two oddly shaped moons – Phobos and Deimos, which are only 17 miles and 9 miles in diameter, respectively. Their original dimensions, small size, and proximity to the asteroid belt led scientists to believe that these two rocky bodies were likely captured asteroids. But thanks to the new images sent back by the Hope orbiter, a new theory is emerging.

“We get the highest resolution [images] never,” says Hessa Al Matroushi, the mission’s chief scientist.

The images, which were shared at the European Geosciences Union meeting on April 24, help bolster the idea that Deimos formed at the same time as Mars.

After its launch in 2020, the Hope Mars orbiter arrived on the Red Planet in 2021 and spent its time studying the Martian atmosphere. Now that its main science mission is complete, the spacecraft has enough fuel reserves to start a secondary mission: to observe Deimos in detail.

Hope made its first flyby of the small moon on March 10, whizzing by just 60 miles above the surface of Deimos. The only other spacecraft to come close was NASA’s Viking 2 orbiter in 1977, but it carried more rudimentary cameras and science instruments.

During his initial flyby, Hope trained his three instruments on Deimos, studying the moon in different wavelengths to try to determine its composition. Preliminary analysis shows Deimos looks more like Mars than carbon-rich asteroids.

“It looks more like Mars than an asteroid,” says Al Matroushi, expressing how ecstatic she and her team were when they first saw the images. “Mars was in the background and it was just breathtaking,” she said.

Scientists don’t yet know exactly how Deimos formed, but they’re sure it looks more like Mars than an asteroid, and is quite different from Mars’ other moon, Phobos. Al Matroushi said the team did not find an abundance of carbon and organic matter as they would if Deimos had asteroid origins. “If there was carbon or organics, we would see spikes in wavelengths,” she said. “But the data was very flat.”

Much like our moon, Deimos is tidally locked to Mars, which means observations of the moon from the planet’s surface or from any spacecraft in low orbit on Mars would always see the same side of Deimos. Luckily for science, Hope has a very elongated orbit that extends up to 40,000 kilometers above the planet, allowing the Hope spacecraft to observe and image the far side of Deimos. These observations will allow the team to analyze the differences between the near and far sides of Deimos to dig deeper into what we know about the moon and Mars.

Al Matroushi says Hope’s sightings of Deimos will continue until 2024, alongside additional sightings on Mars. “We didn’t want to get a single sighting of Deimos,” she said. “We knew we wanted more.”

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