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Washington: NASA’s Odyssey orbiter – the longest-lived mission to Mars – has taken the first look at Phobos, and produced a color-coded image uncovering surface temps of the Martian moon regarded as a potential future human-mission outpost.

The Thermal Emission Imaging System (THEMIS) camera on NASA’s Mars Odyssey orbiter observed Phobos on 29 Sept. Researchers mixed visible-wavelength and infrared data to create an image color-coded for surface temperatures of the moon, which includes been considered for a potential future human-mission outpost.

“Although THEMIS has been on Mars for 16 years, this is the first time we’ve been in a position to turn the spacecraft around to check out Phobos,” said Jonathon Hill, THEMIS Mission Planner. “This half-moon view of Phobos was chosen since it allowed us to see a wide range of temps on the surface,” said Hill.

Phobos comes with an oblong shape with an average diameter around 22 kilometers.

Cameras on other Mars orbiters have previously taken higher-resolution images of Phobos, but none with the infrared information available from THEMIS.

Observations in multiple bands of thermal-infrared wavelengths can yield information about the mineral composition of the surface, as well as the surface texture.

One major question about Phobos and Mars’ even smaller moon, Deimos, is if they are captured asteroids or bits of Mars knocked into the sky by impacts. Compositional information from THEMIS will help pin down their source.

Since Odyssey started orbiting the Red Planet in 2001, THEMIS has provided compositional and thermal-properties information from around Mars but never imaged either Martian moon.

The observation was completed to validate that the spacecraft could safely do so, as the beginning of a possible group of observations of Phobos and Deimos in arriving months.

 

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