Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Mars may get rings

More space news, although not with the gravity of last night's post (awful pun intended).

This time it concerns Mars. Mars may eventually gain rings of a kind similar to Saturn's. In but a few million years, Mars may crush its moon, Phobos. Data shows that Phobos is growing susceptible to Mars' gravity well, drawing it nearer to the planet with increasing celerity. It was originally thought that this might cause a collision. The new line of thinking is that Phobos wouldn't last long enough for that to happen. Instead it would be ripped apart, leaving a disc of rocky debris that would orbit in rings around Mars. This is all based on research being done at UC Berkley which in turn is based on a study of geological properties of meteorites found here on Earth.

But would the rings be a permanent fixture? From the article:

"The rubble would continue to move inward, toward the planet, though at a slower pace than the larger moon is traveling, they said. Over the span of 1 million to 100 million years, the particles would rain down on the equatorial region of Mars."

Rings formed around Saturn and the other gas giants much the same way. Even though at least a portion of those rings probably came from other rocky debris pulled into the orbit via the enormous gravitational forces of those massive planets, moons were likely crushed at one point or another. What would such a thing look like around Mars? Well, you can see an artist's depiction at the link. I think it's fun to imagine alternate or future realities, whether it's here or on Mars, so the picture did capture my imagination for a time.

Could it happen to us with our Moon? Not likely. Phobos is one of the only inwardly evolving moons in the solar system and thus we have an opportunity to observe something unique...even if it will take many millions of years and no one reading (or writing) this will be around to ultimately see it happen (barring the Singularity, that is. C'mon Kurzweil!)

Even so, we have plenty to be concerned about. Asteroid threats aren't going anywhere.

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