Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Could Phobos' Destruction Give Mars Saturn-like Rings?

Mars may one day have rings similar to Saturn's famous halo, new research suggests.

In a few tens of millions of years, the Red Planet may completely crush its innermost moon, Phobos, and form a ring of rocky debris, according to the new work. Phobos is moving closer to Mars every year, meaning the planet's gravitational pull on the satellite is increasing. Some scientists have theorized that Phobos will eventually collide with Mars, but the new research suggests that the small moon may not last that long.

"The main factor affecting whether Phobos will crash into Mars or break apart is its strength," Tushar Mittal, a graduate student at the University of California, Berkeley and one of the authors of the new research paper, told by email. "If Phobos is too weak to withstand increasing tidal stresses, then we expect it to break apart."

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