The Rings of … Mars?

The Rings of … Mars?

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Image by Tushar Mittal using Celestia 2001–2010, Celestia Development Team

 

It could be that our close neighbor planet Mars is going to imitate Saturn and get rings of its own. That is, after Phobos is finally pulled apart by Mars. Already Phobos, the largest of Mars’ two moons, is lined with what is thought to be “lunar stretch marks”. According to Terry Hurford of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Centre,

We think that Phobos has already started to fail, and the first sign of this failure is the production of these grooves.

While Phobos may indeed be failing, you don’t need to panic just yet – the process will probably take place over the next 30 – 50 million years. While the theory of the destruction of Phobos due to tidal forces was raised years ago and discounted, new research into the core of Phobos has it as a rubble center surrounded by a powdery surface regolith a mere 100 meters thick. So, the tidal forces model now works, and it fits.

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courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona

 

And when Phobos does break apart, it looks like it will join other planets in our solar system in having a ringed structure. Once the destruction does take place, it will happen quickly, taking only a few days or weeks to complete. As researcher Benjamin Black was quoted in Nature,

If you were standing on the surface of Mars, you could grab a lawn chair and watch Phobos shearing out and spreading into a big circle.

Now wouldn’t that be a cosmic show to see?