The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) released a time-lapse image of the Martian moon, Phobos, as it orbited the Red planet in May 2016. The Hubble space telescope was observing and taking photos of Mars at that time because it was expected to orbit closer to Earth than it had in the past 11 years.
Hubble took several photos of Mars in the course of 22 minutes and scientists were surprised to find that one of the Martian moons appeared in the shots. As part of Viking 1 lander's 41st anniversary since landing and taking the first crude photo of the Martian surface on July 20, 1976, NASA released the time-lapse image of Phobos's surprise appearance in the Hubble photos.
Below is the time-lapse animated image of Phobos — the small white dot — in orbit.
As an added bonus, NASA also released a short video about all its missions which observed Phobos. Watch the video below.
Phobos's Cameo Appearance
As mentioned above, the event which led to the photo capture of Phobos's orbital trek was really meant to observe the Red planet.
The images were taken on May 12, 2016, when Mars was just about 50 million miles away from Earth, but was expected to pass even closer a few days later.
Phobos is seen as a tiny white dot compared to Mars since the satellite is just a 16.5 miles by 13.5 miles by 11 miles, football-shaped moon. To give a clearer image of its size, Phobos would fit snugly in the Washington, D.C. Beltway, which is within the orange line in the map below.
Get To Know Phobos
Astronomer Asaph Hall was deliberately searching for Martian satellites when he discovered both moons only six days apart in 1877. Deimos is the Martian outer moon while Phobos orbits closer to the Red planet.
Deimos and Phobos — personifications of terror and fear — are named after Ares and Aphrodite's twin sons who ride with the deity to battle. The names are actually fitting because Mars is named after the Greek god of war Ares, who is known as Mars in Roman Mythology.
Phobos is the closest moon to its parent planet when compared with the other moons in our solar system. In fact, it is so close to the surface of Mars that it completes three full orbits within the course of one Martian day, which is just about 24 hours and 40 minutes.
Experts are not yet sure where exactly the two moons originated from, but one thing they agree on is that Phobos would meet its eventual — and self-destructive — demise in the next 30 to 50 million years. This is because Phobos moves about 6.5 feet closer to Mars every hundred years, so it could either crash head on to its parent planet or get ripped apart and form a ring around it, though it probably depends on whether it likes Mars enough.