First high-res shots of Mars’ moon Deimos released after space flyby

UAE Space Agency release observations of Mars’ moon, Deimos

The first-ever high-resolution images of Deimos — the smaller of Mars’ two moons — have been released by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) Space Agency. The shots were taken during flybys of the body by the Emirates Mars Mission’s Hope probe, which has been in orbit around Mars since late February 2021.

Preliminary analysis of the craft’s observations are providing fresh insights into the moon’s makeup and structure. While Hope was originally planned to study the Red Planet and its moons for the last two years, the UAE Space Agency has announced this week that the Emirates Mars Mission will now be extended for at least one more year.

UAE Space Agency Chair Sarah Al Amiri said: “The remarkable performance of the Mars Hope probe has supported a whole range of new observations in addition to meeting our originally stated science missions goals.

“We made new observations in partnership with ESA/JAXA’s BepiColombo spacecraft during our cruise to Mars.”

The mission, she continued, also took “a range of novel observations of Mars’ auroral displays, including never-before-observed aurora.

“And [we] now have transferred our orbit to not only continue to support our unique observations of Mars’ atmosphere, but also make new observations of Deimos.

“In the circumstances, Hope is exceeding all expectations. We are extending the Emirates Mars Mission for a further year.”

Data from the Hope probe are helping to challenge the long-held theory that Deimos — and its twin, Phobos — are captured asteroids, and hint at a planetary origin instead.

Emirates Mars Mission science lead Hessa Al Matroushi explained: “We are unsure of the origins of both Phobos and Deimos.

“Our long-standing theory is that they are captured asteroids, but there are unresolved questions about their composition.

“How exactly they came to be in their current orbits is also an active area of study, and so any new information we can gain on the two moons — especially the more rarely observed Deimos — has the potential to unlock new understanding of Mars’ satellites.

“Our close observations of Deimos so far point to a planetary origin, rather than reflecting the composition of a D-type asteroid, as has been postulated.”

D-type asteroids are dull, featureless and red space rocks, thought to be composed of carbon and both organic-rich and dry silicates, that are found in the asteroid belt and beyond.

Professor Christopher Edwards is an instrument scientist for the Emirates Mars InfraRed Spectrometer (EMIRS), one of the three sensors on the Hope probe.

He added: “Much like data acquired on Phobos indicate its composition is not consistent with a captured D-type asteroid, early results from EMIRS observations of Deimos tell a similar story.

“Both of these bodies have infrared properties more akin to a basaltic Mars than to a D-type asteroid such as the Tagish Lake meteorite that is often used as an analog for the spectral properties of Phobos and Deimos.”

The Tagish Lake meteorite — which fell onto northwestern British Columbia in the January of 2000 — is believed to have originated in 773 Irmintraud, a D-type asteroid.

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While designed to optimise coverage of Mars’ atmosphere, Hope’s distinctively large orbit around the Red Planet has afforded the craft a unique view of Deimos.

In fact, its observations have enabled the first-ever compositional investigations of certain regions on the far side of the moon.

Emirates Mars Mission deputy science lead Dr Justin Deighan: “We have a unique opportunity with Hope, to characterise the composition, thermophysics, and detailed geomorphology of Deimos with these new observations.

“We expect to build a better understanding of both Phobos and Deimos’ origins and evolution and advance our fundamental understanding of these two satellites of Mars.”

The full findings of the study were presented yesterday at the European Geosciences Union General Assembly, which is being held in Vienna, Austria from April 23–28, 2023.

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