Study: Mars To Become Ringed Planet Following Death Of Its Moon

Mars To Become Ringed Planet
Mars' smaller moon, Phobos, is breaking apart from the inside. Researchers think when it breaks up it will form a ring around the Red Planet. Photo by NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona

BERKELEY, Calif., Nov. 23 (UPI) ─ A new study, published in Nature Geoscience, suggests Mars could become ringed if its smaller moon Phobos falls apart, as scientists believe it will.

Recent research pointed to Phobos’ unique stretch marks as a sign of its undoing. The moon’s insides are only a loose conglomeration, scientists argue, weakened by an ancient impact. Tidal forces continue to put structural stress on Mars’ lone moon, slowly pulling the satellite apart.

Now researchers at the University of California, Berkeley say the death of Phobos could pave the way for a ring of rubble around the Red Planet. They estimate Phobos has another 20 to 40 million years before it’s broken into fragments.

The study’s authors say the debris of such a breakup would quickly coalesce into a ring of rubble, with density comparable to Saturn’s rings. Over time, Mars’ ring would thin out, but researchers suggest it could last anywhere from 1 to 100 million years.

The rings of Saturn and Jupiter were also formed, at least partially, by colliding satellites. Today, Saturn has 62 moons, but it likely had many more millions of years ago. Jupiter has 67 moons.

Satellite sabotage was likely a more common occurrence in the early solar system. Phobos’ demise may be one of the last chances to witness a moon self destruct.

“Inwardly migrating satellites — some of which may break up tidally, some of which may collide with their primaries — are likely to be an under-appreciated and important component of planetary evolution,” Berkeley researchers Benjamin Black and Tushar Mittal wrote in their new study.

“Phobos offers the last possible glimpse of the signatures and processes that applied to inwardly migrating moons and the interplay with ring formation early in our solar system’s history.”


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