UAE Spacecraft Takes Close-up Photos of Mars’ Little Moon

A spacecraft around Mars has sent back the most detailed photos yet of the red planet’s little moon. 

The United Arab Emirates’ Amal spacecraft flew within 100 kilometers (62 miles) of Deimos last month, and the close-up shots were released Monday. Amal — Arabic for Hope — got a two-for-one when Mars photobombed some of the images. It was the closest a spacecraft has been to Deimos in almost a half-century. 

The spacecraft also observed the little explored far side of the odd-shaped, cratered moon, just 15 kilometers by 12 kilometers by 12 kilometers (9 miles by 7 miles by 7 miles.) 

SEE ALSO: A related video by VOA’s Arash Arabasadi

Mars’ other moon, Phobos, is almost double that size and better understood since it orbits much closer to Mars — just 6,000 kilometers (3,700 miles) away, the closest of any planet’s moon in our solar system. 

Deimos’ orbit around Mars stretches 23,000 kilometers (14,000 miles) out. That’s close to the inner part of the spacecraft’s orbit — “which is what made observing Deimos such a compelling idea,” said the mission’s lead scientist Hessa al-Matroushi. 

“Phobos has got most of the attention up until now — now it’s Deimos’ turn!” she added in an email. 

Al-Matroushi and other scientists with the UAE Space Agency said these new images indicate Deimos is not an asteroid that got captured in Mars’ orbit eons ago, the leading theory until now. Instead, they say the moon appears to be of Martian origin — perhaps from the bigger Martian moon or from Mars itself. 

The findings were presented Monday at the European Geosciences Union’s general assembly in Vienna. 

Amal will continue to sweep past Deimos this year, but not as closely as the March 10 encounter, according to al-Matroushi. 

NASA’s Viking 2 came within 30 kilometers (19 miles) of Deimos in 1977. Since then, other spacecraft have photographed Deimos but from much farther away. 

Amal rocketed to Mars on July 19, 2020, one day shy of the 50th anniversary of humanity’s first moon landing — Earth’s moon, that is — by Apollo 11’s Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin. 

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