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Worlds that pass in the night

EARLIER THIS MONTH, the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Mars Express spacecraft—currently in orbit about Mars—performed a special manoeuvre that enabled it to observe an unusual alignment of Jupiter and the martian moon Phobos. The impressive images have now been processed into a movie of this rare event.

At the moment when Mars Express, Phobos and Jupiter aligned on 1 June 2011, there was a distance of 11,389 kilometres between the spacecraft and Phobos, and a further 529 million kilometres to Jupiter.

The High Resolution Stereo Camera on Mars Express was kept fixed on Jupiter for the event, ensuring that the planet remained static in the frame while Phobos ‘drifted’ through. The operation returned a total of 104 images over a period of 68 seconds, all of them taken using the camera’s super-resolution channel.

By timing the exact moment Jupiter passed behind Phobos, the observation is helping to verify and improve our knowledge of the orbital position of the martian moon.

Martian moon Phobos

Phobos is the larger of Mars' two small moons.

Phobos is the larger of Mars’ two moons, the other being Deimos. Phobos is shaped a bit like a potato, with dimensions of 27 x 22 18 kilometres. It is thought to be covered by about 100 metres of regolith…broken rock and dust.

Phobos is named after the Greek god of the same name, and means ‘fear’. Deimos also is named after a Greek god, and means ‘dread’. Both were the son of the Greek god of Mars, Ares.

The images shown here were processed at the Department of Planetary Sciences and Remote Sensing at the Institute of Geological Sciences of the Freie Universität Berlin.

Adapted from information issued by ESA. Video courtesy ESA / DLR / FU Berlin (G. Neukum). Phobos image courtesy NASA / JPL-Caltech / University of Arizona.

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