The doomed satellite of Mars Phobos can leave a farewell gift to the parent planet. A new study shows that the satellite is likely to fall apart before it burns in the atmosphere, forming a pile of debris that will circle around Mars for a million years.
A study published this week in the journal Nature Geoscience, based on a statement made earlier this month, according to which Phobos already shows signs of structural deformation from the gravitational forces of Mars.
“Phobos experienced a heavy collision at the beginning of its history, which made the satellite weak,” says Benjamin Black and Tushar Mittal, planetary scientists at the University of California at Berkeley. Their research shows that over the next 40 million years Phobos will collapse, leaving a cloud of debris that will rotate as a ring around Mars.
Initially, the ring will be dense, as Saturn's rings, research shows.
For scientists, the destruction of Phobos represents a unique opportunity to study what happened at the dawn of the origin of the solar system.
Phobos may provide one last opportunity to study the processes that lead to the migration of satellites closer to the parent planet, forming a ring system.