The Japanese are sending a lander and a rover to one of the moons of Mars

Artistic vision of the MMX probe. Source: JAXA

The Japanese space agency (JAXA) is starting work on a probe that will land on the surface of Phobos, the larger of Mars's two moons.

If the whole mission goes according to plan, it will be not only the first ever landing on the surface of the Martian moon, but also the first journey to the Mars system and back.

A few days ago, the Japanese reported that the MMX (Martian Moons Exploration) mission project had officially entered the development phase. This means that individual teams will now start building hardware and creating probe software, which is scheduled to start in 2024.

The MMX spacecraft will start from Earth in 2024 and reach the Red Planet in early 2025.

Over the next three years, a spacecraft orbiting Mars will study both Phobos and the smaller Deimos, gradually creating their detailed maps.

During the mission, MMX will land on the surface of Phobos, spend several hours there and collect samples of matter from below the ground. There are also plans to provide a small rover that will move on the moon's surface. The culmination of the entire mission is to return to Earth and provide samples of matter taken from the surface. According to plans, soil samples from the moon of Mars would reach Earth in 2029.

Among the scientific goals of the mission is an attempt to determine the origin of the moons of Mars. To date, scientists have not been able to determine whether Phobos and Deimos were formed as a result of a larger object hitting the surface of Mars, or whether they are asteroids captured by it.

In the context of future space exploration, Phobos may prove to be a significant element of manned Martian missions. Many plans for such missions include first landing on Phobos, and only then on the surface of the Red Planet. However, such missions will only be possible after MMX thoroughly investigates Phobos.

Despite the fact that MMX is a mission carried out by the Japanese space agency, NASA will also participate in it. Americans will equip the probe with instruments that allow analyzing the chemical composition of Phobos' surface and a pneumatic soil sampling device.

The very idea of ​​sending a probe to the moons of Mars is nothing new. Already in 1988, the Soviet Union sent the Fobos 2 probe, which assumed landing on the surface of Phobos and releasing the rover. Unfortunately, the mission was a failure. In 2011, the Russian Phobos-Grunt spacecraft did not even go beyond Earth's orbit and ended in the Pacific in 2012.

Will this curse hanging over missions to Phobos disappear?

Phobos and Deimos - two unusual moons

In Roman mythology, Phobos and Deimos are the sons of the god of war Mars, so it is not surprising that such names were given to them by their discoverer Asaph Hall in 1877.

However, the moons of Mars do not resemble our natural satellite. Phobos has a diameter of about 23 km, and Deimos only 13 km, so even in large ground-based telescopes they are only dots. Both are orbiting in the Mars equatorial plane.

The distance between Phobos and Mars is only 6,000 km. As if that wasn't enough, it gets closer to Mars by 1.8 cm every year. For this reason, scientists assume that in the next 40-50 million years, Phobos will burst due to the gravity of the planet, and the remnants of it can form a ring around the planet. Deimos, in turn, orbits 20,000 km from the planet's surface.

However, these are still very small distances. The curvature of the planet means that Deimosa will not be seen by anyone higher than 83 degrees in latitude of Mars. Phobos will remain out of reach of any Marsonauts above 70 degrees latitude.

Let's assume, however, that we are around the Martian equator and look at the sky.

Observing the moons of Mars is pure pleasure!

Earth First: The Earth rotates around its axis 27 times faster than the time it takes the Moon to orbit the Earth. Thanks to this, the moon appears centrally above our heads about every 25 hours.

In the case of Mars, we have two moons. Deimos needs 30 hours and 18 minutes to circle Mars. Mars itself rotates around its axis in 24 hours and 37 minutes. For this reason, an astronaut sitting on the surface of Mars will see Deimosa east. After 33 hours (!), Deimos will only reach the highest point in the sky, after which it will follow another 33 hours in the west and will appear only 66 hours later in the east. His movement in the sky is extremely slow.

Phobos is his opposite. While Deimos is a turtle, Phobos is a real greyhound. The larger of the moons of Mars requires only 7 hours and 39 minutes for a complete orbit around the planet. As a result, it is the only moon in the solar system that orbits its planet in less time than the planet's rotation time around its axis. Thanks to this, Phobos orbits the planet 3 times in one Martian day. From the moment of sunrise to the Phobos towering, only 2 hours and 48 minutes pass, and after another less than three hours Phobos is already setting. To make it more fun, from the perspective of a marsonaut, Phobos rises in the west and sets in the east.

Every 10 hours and 18 minutes, Phobos passes Deimosa in the sky, moving in the opposite direction.

Studying such fascinating objects with the MMX probe can be really fascinating.

Finally, think about one more thing. When MMX lands on the surface of Phobos, only 6,000 km from the surface of Mars, imagine what the view will have? From the perspective of the rover standing on the surface of Phobos, Mars will fill a large part of the sky. It will be a really spectacular sight.



The Japanese are sending a lander and a rover to one of the moons of Mars

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