UAE spacecraft snaps close-up of Mars’ little moon

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — A spacecraft around Mars has returned the most detailed photos yet of the Red Planet’s small moon.

The United Arab Emirates’ Amal spacecraft flew less than 100 kilometers from Deimos last month and the close-ups were released on Monday. Amal – Arabic for Hope – got a two-for-one when Mars photobombed some of the footage. It was the closest spacecraft to Deimos for nearly half a century.

The spacecraft also observed the moon’s little-explored far side in an oddly shaped crater, just 9 miles by 7 miles by 7 miles (15 kilometers by 12 kilometers by 12 kilometers).

Mars’ other moon, Phobos, is almost twice that size and better understood because it orbits much closer to Mars – just 3,700 miles (6,000 kilometers), the closest moon of any which planet in our solar system.

Deimos’ orbit around Mars is 14,000 miles (23,000 kilometers). It’s close to the inner part of the spacecraft’s orbit — “that’s what made the Deimos sighting such a compelling idea,” said the mission’s lead scientist, Hessa al-Matroushi.

“Phobos has been the focus so far – now it’s Deimos’ turn!” she added in an email.

Al-Matroushi and other scientists from the United Arab Emirates Space Agency said these new images indicate that Deimos is not an asteroid that was captured in the orbit of Mars eons ago, the main theory so far. Instead, they say the moon appears to be of Martian origin – possibly from the larger Martian moon or from Mars itself.

The results were presented Monday at the General Assembly of the European Geosciences Union in Vienna.

Amal will continue to sweep Deimos this year, but not as narrowly as in the March 10 encounter, according to al-Matroushi.

NASA’s Viking 2 approached within 30 kilometers of Deimos in 1977. Since then, other spacecraft have photographed Deimos, but from much further away.

Amal blasted off to Mars on July 19, 2020, a day before the 50th anniversary of mankind’s first moon landing – Earth’s moon, that is – by Apollo 11’s Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin .

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