NASA recently announced that its Mars Odyssey orbiter took a tasty snapshot of the Martian moon Phobos using its infrared camera.
Since 2001, Odyssey has been dutifully orbiting the Red Planet. Billed as looking “like a rainbow-colored jawbreaker,” the colorful images could help scientists determine more about the surface of Phobos and, perhaps, prepare to one day land a spacecraft there.
Each color in the image represents a different temperature, and further analysis could help clue NASA researchers into what awaits on Phobos’ surface. Odyssey first turned its thermal camera toward Phobos in late 2017, but this is the first time it’s caught Phobos during its full moon phase, meaning more light was shed on its surface, resulting in a more colorful photo.
“With the half-moon views, we could see how rough or smooth the surface is and how it’s layered,” said Joshua Bandfield, a senior research scientist at the Space Sciences Institute, said in a press release, “Now we’re gathering data on what minerals are in it, including metals.”
Initial analysis suggests that Phobos contains some iron and nickel. The exact quantity of each could help determine whether Phobos was once a part of Mars or if it formed from chunks of asteroids.
While Phobos has long been a target of missions launched by both the Russian space agency and NASA, no craft has successfully set down on its surface. That makes a 2024 sample return mission to the moon planned by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency all the more exciting.
Phobos has, in the past, been considered as a possibility for human base building in an effort to aid crewed missions to Mars. Determining the moon’s exact makeup would drastically aid in planning such a settlement — and that’s what makes these colorful candids even sweeter.
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