Mars is expected to become a ringed planet after Phobos bursts into numerous pieces, it has been revealed by experts at University of California, Berkeley.
Phobos is the Red Planet’s largest natural satellite, dwarfing Deimos, although its diameter is of just 14 miles. It is predicted that approximately 20 to 40 million years from now gravitational pull from Mars will be so disruptive that it will cause this moon to break apart, leaving just the other smaller one still standing.
Phobos, which is a mere 3,700 miles (6,000 kilometers) from Mars, already has plenty of pores, and its rocky structure is becoming more and more unstable and weak.
In addition, unlike the Moon which is actually getting further and further from Earth with each passing year, the orbit that Phobos is on keeps bringing it closer to its host planet, by around 6.5 feet per century.
Throughout our solar system, such an occurrence has only been identified once, when analyzing Triton, Neptune’s largest moons.
Under the gravitational forces exerted by Mars, the fragmentation within Phobos becomes even more prominent, and eventually it will result in the celestial body’s disintegration.
After conducting computer simulations, researchers have determined that it’s unlikely that the natural satellite will collide with the Red Planet while it is still in one piece, given that tidal pressures are getting stronger, as Phobos is losing its cohesion.
If its dissolution were to take place at a distance of around 680 kilometers away from its host planet, just some of the larger fragments would reach the Martian surface, producing impact craters along its equator.
On the other hand, smaller pieces would be converted into a ring of rocky debris, similar to that encountered around Jupiter, Saturn, Neptune and Uranus.
According to Tushar Mitalll, one of the study’s co-authors, initially this ring would have a very small width, and a particle concentration comparable to that of Saturn’s densest planetary rings.
Gradually, the loop would become wider and continue to orbit in an inward motion, until it would get so close to Mars that it would begin losing more and more of its clumps, which would crash against the planet’s atmosphere, just like meteor showers on our planet.
As researchers explain, when this phenomenon occurs tens of millions of years from now, it can’t be established if the ring would actually be noticeable to human beings.
Given that it would consist mostly of dust, which doesn’t normally reflect sunlight, it might not be visible as a clear halo on Earth, although it would provide a jaw-dropping spectacle on Mars.
At the most, if the ring were to send back enough light, the Red Planet would have greater brightness, and the circular band of debris could appear just as a shadow when observed through a telescope located on our planet.
Now, following this paper published on November 23 in the journal Nature Geoscience, study authors are planning to conduct follow-up research, so as to investigate the possibility that craters on Mars originated from impacts with former moons, especially since their appearance seems to suggest such beginnings.
Image Source: AGU Blogosphere