Mars orbiter eyes Phobos over planet's horizon
Posted: June 24, 2003

A high resolution image of Phobos was taken by Mars Global Surveyor from about 6,010 miles away. At this distance, the image resolution is about 470 ft. per pixel. Credit: NASA/JPL/Malin Space Science Systems
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.

Phobos is so close to the martian surface (less than 6,000 kilometers or 3,728 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.

The top 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.

On June 1, the Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft was slewed eastward to capture these views of the inner moon, Phobos, shortly before it set over the afternoon limb. Credit: NASA/JPL/Malin Space Science Systems

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