NASA's Perseverance rover has been busy since it collected its first samples of Mars back in September 2021. Additionally, it achieved another historic first last month by helping scientists confirm the speed of sound on the red planet.
Now, it's brought footage of quite an amazing scene: a solar eclipse on Mars, according to a statement released by NASA on Wednesday.
A potato-shaped moon
"NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover has captured dramatic footage of Phobos, Mars’ potato-shaped moon, crossing the face of the Sun. These observations can help scientists better understand the moon’s orbit and how its gravity pulls on the Martian surface, ultimately shaping the Red Planet’s crust and mantle," said NASA in its press release.
The video was taken with Perseverance’s next-generation Mastcam-Z camera on April 2, the 397th Martian day, or sol, of the mission, and provided the most zoomed-in video of a Phobos solar eclipse yet – and at the highest frame rate ever. The eclipse lasted a little over 40 seconds but proved long enough to amaze the Mastcam-Z team members who operate the camera.
"I knew it was going to be good, but I didn’t expect it to be this amazing,” said Rachel Howson of Malin Space Science Systems in San Diego. “It feels like a birthday or holiday when they arrive. You know what’s coming, but there is still an element of surprise when you get to see the final product.”
A slow death spiral
Perhaps what makes the event even more spectacular is that Phobos is on a slow death spiral. Scientists have long concluded that Phobos is doomed as it is getting closer to the Martian surface and is destined to crash into the planet in tens of millions of years.
However, this doesn't mean that it does not serve a purpose. Scientists have been studying Phobos' gravity and how it has been slightly deforming the rocks in the planet’s crust and mantle. So far, geophysicists have been examining those changes to understand better how pliable the interior of Mars is, revealing more about the materials within the crust and mantle. Not bad for a dying moon!