It was only a fortnight ago that scientists at NASA announced Mars’s moon Phobos is in the process of shattering apart due to tidal forces exerted on it by the red planet, and now a new study explains what this dramatic phenomenon could ultimately lead to.
The impending destruction of Phobos that’s set to take place in the next 20 to 40 million years will result in the disintegrated moon forming a ring system around its parent planet, according to scientists at the University of California, Berkeley.
The researchers’ calculations provide an answer to a puzzle scientists have long contemplated regarding the ongoing gravitational attraction between Mars and its larger moon. Phobos, which orbits Mars at a distance of just 6,000 kilometres, is gradually spiralling in towards the red planet, and the tidal forces pulling on Phobos are also responsible for weakening the structural integrity of the moon, which is believed to have a rubble-like core.
But while the gap between Mars and Phobos is closing at an extremely slow rate – narrowing by only a number of centimetres each year – the ultimate question remained: after millions of years, would Phobos inevitably collide with Mars, or would the tidal forces shatter the moon into smaller fragments before such an eventuality could take place? According to the researchers, who used observational data and a geotechnical model to calculate the integrity of Phobos, the structural failure of the moon will precede any planetary collision. Source: Mars could gain a ring like Saturn’s due to the impending destruction of its moon Phobos