NASA’s rover caught the mesmerising eclipses when the Martian moons of Deimos and Phobos darted across the Sun’s glowing face. The eclipses were snapped within two weeks of one another, on March 17 and March 26 respectively. The first event saw the tiny moon of Deimos briefly speed across the Sun. Deimos is the smaller of Mars’ two natural satellites and as a result, the eclipse did not stand a chance of blocking out the Sun.
Astronomers estimate the potato-shaped moon only measures about 1.5 miles (2.3km) across.
But the eclipse was spectacular in its own right because NASA said it only marked the eighth time it was seen passing in front of the Sun.
The US space agency said: “To date, there have been eight observations of Deimos eclipsing the Sun from either Spirit, Opportunity or Curiosity; there have been about 40 observations of Phobos.
“There’s still a margin of uncertainty in the orbits of both Martian moons, but that shrinks with every eclipse that’s viewed from the Red Planet’s surface.”
When Phobos passed in front of the Sun, the eclipse was much more discernible and exciting to observe.
Phobos is estimated to measure roughly seven miles across (11.5km), making it about three times bigger than Earth’s Moon.
But unlike our round Moon, Phobos is an irregular satellite and orbits Mars from an incredibly close distance of about 3,700 miles (6,000km).
The moon’s orbit is also gradually shrinking at a rate of about 6.5ft (two metres) every century.
In about 30 million to 50 million years the moon risks slamming into Mrs.
NASA said: “In addition to capturing each moon crossing in front of the Sun, one of Curiosity’s Navigation Cameras (Navcams) observed the shadow of Phobos on March 25, 2019 (Sol 2358).
“As the moon’s shadow passed over the rover during sunset, it momentarily darkened the light.”
The incredible eclipse photos were made possible by the Curiosity’s “sunglasses” – solar filters mounted on the rovers’ Mast Camera or Mastcam.
The filters allow the rover to look directly at the Sun and take stunning black and white photos of the Martian moons in transit.
There have been eight observations of Deimos eclipsing the Sun
NASA said: “Solar eclipses have been seen many times by Curiosity and other rovers in the past.
“Besides being cool — who doesn’t love an eclipse? — these events also serve a scientific purpose, helping researchers fine-tune their understanding of each moon’s orbit around Mars.”
NASA’s Curiosity rover landed on Mars in 2012, joining a still growing list of remote robotic probes and landers sent to the Red Planet.
Prior to Curiosity, the Spirit and Opportunity rovers have extensively explored Mars since 2004.
NASA was forced to recently pull the plug on the Opportunity rover mission after 15 historic years.
The rover suffered a malfunction in June last year when a planet-wide sandstorm engulfed Mars.
Mark Lemmon of Texas A&M University said these new observations of the Martian eclipses will help scientists better understand the orbits of the planet’s moons.
When Deimos was spotted moving across the Sun for the very first time, astronomers were supposed to see it 25 miles (40km) away from where they expect it.
Mr Lemmon said: “More observations over time help pin down the details of each orbit.
“Those orbits change all the time in response to the gravitational pull of Mars, Jupiter or even each Martian moon pulling on the other.”
The Martian expert added observing these stellar events on Mars helps make the Red Planet a much more tangible and real world.
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