Curiosity watches as Mars' two moons eclipse the Sun

Curiosity watches as Mars' two moons eclipse the Sun”

There's something completely sublime about watching solar eclipses from the surface of another planet, as showcased in these new videos captured by NASA's Curiosity rover.

Deimos, the smaller of the duo, swung by on March 17. Then, on March 25, Curiosity captured an indirect glimpse of an eclipse.

"Solar eclipses have been seen many times by Curiosity and other rovers in the past", NASA says.

The first series of shots was snapped on March 17 this year, as Deimos transited the Sun.

The two Martian moons Phobos and Deimos both passed in front of the sun in late March - but, each being only a few miles across at most, the transit didn't exactly turn day to night.

Phobos is only 7 miles across and Deimos a mere 1.5 miles wide; truly paltry compared to Earth's moon, which is about 1,079 miles across.

The eclipses were captured by the solar filters on the Curiosity's Mast Camera (Mastcam) that allows it to stare directly at the Sun. The Martian moon Phobos's orbit is nearly directly over its equator whereas our moon, on the other hand, is in a tilted orbit, which makes the Earth, sun, and moon not line up as very often. The transits will help scientists understand the unusual orbits of the Red Planet's two oddly-shaped moons.

Curiosity Rover's official Twitter account @MarsCuriosity posted GIFs of the eclipses.

The moon's orbit is also gradually shrinking at a rate of about 6.5ft (two metres) every century. The rover's view of the Martian horizon at sunset showed the sky suddenly darkening, as the bigger and closer moon Phobos swept overhead and temporarily dimmed the setting sun's light.

Observing solar eclipses help researchers fine-tune their understanding of each moon's orbit around Mars, NASA said.

In addition to capturing each moon crossing in front of the Sun, one of Curiosity's Navigation Cameras (Navcams) also observed the shadow of Phobos on March 25. The rover was designed, developed and assembled at JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

Before the Spirit and Opportunity rovers landed in 2004, there was much higher uncertainty in the orbit of each moon, said Mark Lemmon of Texas A&M University, College Station, a co-investigator with Curiosity's Mastcam.

Mr Lemmon said: "More observations over time help pin down the details of each orbit". "Eclipses, sunrises and sunsets and weather phenomena all make Mars real to people, as a world both like and unlike what they see outside, not just a subject in a book".

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