June 24, 2003
Images from the Mars Orbiter Camera aboard NASA's Mars Global Surveyor capture a faint yet distinct glimpse of the elusive Phobos, the larger and innermost of Mars' two moons. The moon, which usually rises in the west and moves rapidly across the sky to set in the east twice a day, is shown setting over Mars' afternoon horizon.
The images are available on the Internet at:
Phobos is so close to the martian surface (5,980 kilometers or 3,716 miles away), it only appears above the horizon at any instant from less than a third of the planet's surface. From the areas where it is visible, Phobos looks only half as large as Earth's full moon. Like our satellite, it always keeps the same side facing Mars. The tiny moon is also one of the darkest and mostly colorless (dark grey) objects in the solar system, so for the color image two exposures were needed to see it next to Mars. The faint orange-red hue seen in the wide-angle image is a combination of the light coming from Mars and the way the camera processes the image.
Mars and Phobos Image details
Mars Exploration site
The bottom picture is a high-resolution image that shows Phobos' "trailing" hemisphere (the part facing opposite the direction of its orbit). At a range of 9,670 kilometers (6,009 miles), this image has a resolution of 35.9 meters (117.8 feet) per pixel. The image width (diagonal from lower left to upper right) is just over 24 kilometers (15 miles).
The Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., manages Mars Global Surveyor for NASA's Office of Space Science in Washington, D.C. JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. JPL's industrial partner is Lockheed Martin Astronautics, Denver, which developed and operates the spacecraft. Malin Space Science Systems and the California Institute of Technology built the Mars Orbiter Camera, and Malin Space Science Systems operates the camera from its facilities in San Diego, Calif.
JPL/Charli Schuler (818) 393-5467