Peekaboo! NASA’s Curiosity Rover Films Two Incredible Martian Solar Eclipses

NASA’s Curiosity Rover has filmed another stunning footage from the surface of Mars.

NASA’s very own alien rover on Mars got front row seats to witness two Martian eclipses as its camera observed how Martian moons Phobos and Deimos passed in front of the Sun, in just a few days apart.

But unlike eclipses on Earth, the Martian eclipses don’t really cover the sun entirely since they are only a few kilometers across, and their transit between Mars and the Sun doesn’t turn day into night.

However, the animation below shows each of the moon’s motion in front of the sun, temporarily casting a shadow onto the Martian surface.

Mars has two ‘mon’s we know of.

One of them is Phobos and its about 12 kilometers in diameter (7 miles). The other moon is Deimos, a much smaller asteroid with 2.3 kilometers in diameter (1.5. miles). Phobos passed in front of the sun on March 26, which Deimos did the same around a week earlier as it crossed between Mars and the sun on March 17.

Deimos transit. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS.
Deimos transit. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS.

Of the two, Phobos is perhaps the strange kid on the block. The mystery space rock orbits Mars three times a day from an altitude of 6,000 kilometers (3,700 miles) above the surface, meaning it circles its planet closer than any other moon in the solar system. Interestingly, scientists say that Phobos is actually moving closer towards Mars at a rate of 1.8 meters (6 feet) every 100 years.

Phobos Transit. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS.
Phobos Transit. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS.

If the rate remains constant, the moon will crash into Mars in around 50 million years.

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But not only did Curiosity’s footage give us incredible footage from Mars, but it also helps astronomers understand the moons in greater detail.

Data from the eclipses will help experts better understand the orbit of both Deimos and Phobos, two of the most mysterious moons in our solar system.

“More observations over time help pin down the details of each orbit,” Mark Lemmon, a co-investigator with Curiosity’s Mastcam, said in a statement. “Those orbits change all the time in response to the gravitational pull of Mars, Jupiter or even each Martian moon pulling on the other.”

NASA’s Curiosity rover also used its Navcam instrument to record the sunset eclipse on Mars, the darkening of the Martian sky as Phobos made its way in front of the sun on March 25, or Sol 2358.

As noted by NASA, there have been eight observations of Deimos eclipsing the Sun from either Spirit, Opportunity or Curiosity to date. There have been about 40 observations of Phobos. There’s still a margin of uncertainty in the orbits of both Martian moons, but that shrinks with every eclipse that’s viewed from the Red Planet’s surface.