The spacecraft approached the closest approach with Phobos

The spacecraft approached the closest approach with Phobos

On this Thursday (January 14), the Mars Express European Space Agency orbiter visited the natural satellite Phobos. It was the closest demonstration flight throughout the Mars Express mission this year.

The demonstration flight occurred at 4:00:21 UTC (10:00 am EST), when the ship was 53 kilometers away (or 33 miles) from the largest moon Mars. According to the Mars Express blog update, out of 60 scheduled demonstration flights to Phobos this year, this event is a “real holiday” (other demonstration flights will be no closer than a few hundred miles), not allowing the mission’s scientists to accomplish some of their goals.

Predominantly key research instruments include a set of innovative stereo cameras (HRSC) that are able to view the entire topography of the moon, which was not possible in the past.

“This demonstration flight will provide us with a very good viewing angle of around 1,000 km (or 620 miles) across the entire area, previously unexplored properly,” said Dmitry Titov, ESA Mars Express project coordinator. “HRSC will take the images, and the MARSIS radar and the particle tool ASPERA-3 will help him to see the depths of the moon and the plasma environment.” As part of the demonstration flight, an area was designated in advance - a landing site for the future Russian spacecraft, landing on the coast with the possibility of returning. The mission was launched in 2011, but failed when the spacecraft was stuck in low earth orbit and eventually re-entered the atmosphere. We hope that a second attempt may occur by 2026.

“This demonstration flight is very important because it will allow us to finally examine this area of ​​Phobos and study it thoroughly. It should still be noticeable in high resolution and excellent lighting, ”said Thomas Duxbury, a teacher of planetary science at George Mason University, Virginia.

In addition, an incredibly close approximation will cause the weak gravitational field of Phobos to slightly change the orbital trajectory of Mars Express. In 2013, another demonstration flight at a short distance (passing within 45 km or 28 miles) was carried out by scientists to check for the presence of a gravitational deviation, measuring the exact mass and density of a natural satellite. Demonstration flight on Thursday will be used to confirm the measurements previously made by astronomers. This is a good chance for science to learn something new about our vast universe.

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