NASA’s Perseverance rover used its Mastacam-Z camera to film Phobos, one of the two moons of Mars, and study how its orbit changes over time. In one of the videos you can watch the spectacular solar eclipse from the Martian perspective – remember that the rover landed on the Red Planet in February last year.
The video was shot on April 2, on the 397th Martian day (sol) of the mission. The (partial) eclipse lasted just over 40 seconds, much shorter than the solar eclipse generated by the Earth’s Moon compared to which Phobos is about 157 times smaller – the other Martian moon, Demios, is even smaller in size. This is not the first documented eclipse of his Mars – among the various ones we remember the images sent by the Curiosity rover – but it is shooting with the highest magnification and highest frame rate ever.
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The Mastacam-Z is equipped with a solar filter that basically works like a pair of sunglasses, dimming the intensity of the light. In this way you can see the details of the Sun (see sunspots) and of the profile of Phobos (ridges and troughs).
Rachel Howson, one of the managers of the Mastcam-Z camera, did not hide the surprise in witnessing the final result of the video recording: I knew it would be cool, but I didn’t expect it would be this extraordinary. Howson clarifies that Perseverance preliminarily sends low-resolution thumbnails that are only a preview of the full-resolution images. Amazement therefore justified after having ascertained the actual level of detail and fluidity of the footage.
Phobos is being studied because, while orbiting Mars, its gravity exerts small tidal forces within the Red Planet, slightly deforming the crust and the mantle. These forces also determine the slow variation of Phobos’ orbit. By examining this data, geophysics experts can obtain relevant data to learn more about the materials that make up the Planet. The end of Phobos, even if very distant, is in any case already marked: the moon will continue to progressively approach Mars until it crashes, but it will take about tens of millions of years.