Two weeks ago NASA announced the possibility of Mars to become the next Saturn after a possible future destruction of Phobos, the larger of Mars’ two moons.
Based on that, scientists Tushar Mittal and Benjamin A. Black claim, in a study published on November 23 in Nature Geoscience, that there are two possible scenarios for Phobos’ ending – it will either crash into Mars, as scientists were expecting until now, or it will break apart in trillions of pieces, of which the bigger ones will smash into the planet but the small rocks, dust and sand particles will create a ring system around the Red Planet, similar to the one that Saturn already has.
Phobos is one of the natural satellites of Mars, being seven times larger than Deimos, the other moon of Mars. Both of them have been discovered by Asaph Hall, an American astronomer, in 1877. Phobos orbits mars at a distance of only 3,700 mi (6,000 km), being 60 times closer to Mars than our Moon is to Earth.
Being so close to its planet is what it’s leading to its end. Attracted by the gravitational force of Mars, it’s getting closer to the planet with about two meters every century. This means that Phobos still has from 20 to 40 million years to “live”.
Though, Black and Mittal argue that its final collapse will disintegrate Phobos in billions of smaller rocks, sand and dust that will probably continue to orbit around the planet, producing rings that will last between one and 100 million years. This will make Mars the next ringed planet in our Solar System, after Saturn and the other three gas giants in our Solar System – Jupiter, Uranus and Neptune.
Saturn’s ring system has 12 rings formed after various impacts between more of its moonlets and moons disintegrated in smaller pieces that keep orbiting the planet together with its other 62 natural satellites.
If the theory of Phobos’ disintegration will prove to be true, the rings formed by it will be a lot smaller than those around Saturn. However, at least for a period of time, they will probably have about the same density as Saturn’s.
The question that needs to be answered now it’s what does that mean for our own future, considering NASA’s current and future missions on Mars and our plans of one day being able to make the planet habitable and start living on its surface, making mankind a multi-planetary race. Could and impact like that end the possible human life on Mars sooner than a catastrophic event on Earth?
Image source: www.pixabay.com