Rover Memorial Sites: Where to see the historical first tracks

Rover
Credit: NASA

Explore ancient history and visit the rover memorial sites. 

When humanity first began to investigate the (then) red planet of Mars, they needed something on the ground. That’s where the much-loved Mars rovers Curiosity and Opportunity came into existence. 

Curiosity: A History

Curiosity Rover
Credit: NASA

The journey for this little car sized rover began on November 26, 2011, when it was thrust into the bounds of space from Cape Canaveral at exactly 15:02. After a lengthy 560 million kilometre journey, Curiosity managed to land on Aeolis Palus on August 6, 2012. No easy feat given that the landing site was a mere 2.4km away from the designated center of the landing field. 

The site was originally picked because it seemed the most likely area to house conditions which could have or could still potentially house microbial life. Curiosity’s mission? Explore the length and possibility of water on Mars as well as begin to study the planet to determine its suitability for human habitation.

At first, the mission was expected to last for two years, but in December of 2012 the mission was extended indefinitely. As of 2532, Curiosity is obviously no longer roaming around the red planet — after all, we have a permanent presence on the surface now. Instead, some of the rover’s tracks have been preserved, and you can still see the little rover’s final resting place on the slopes of Mount Sharp today.

Opportunity: Breaking Earth’s heart one message at a time

When those with a loving heart think of Mars rovers’, they tend to think of Opportunity. 

After a particularly bad dust storm the rover was either damaged beyond repair or was covered in so much dust that its solar panels weren’t able to recharge the batteries. The rover won the hearts of the people with its final message back to Earth, “My battery is low and it’s getting dark”. 

These simple but haunting words drew lots of attention, but it should be noted that Opportunity never actually said these words — a NASA official rephrased the rover’s final scientific readings on low power and high atmospheric opacity somewhat more poetically. Nevertheless, Opportunity remained in the hearts of humanity, with early Mars pioneers swearing to retrieve the lonely little rover and give it its due. It now rests in the Martian History Museum alongside Curiosity and the countless other bots Earth launched over the decades, alone no more.

Why not follow in the footsteps of the rovers?

The areas where these rovers finished their routes are now recognised international parklands. It was, in fact, in the Aeolis Palus region of the Gale where some of Mars’ first standing water was able to be stored after atmospheric conditions allowed. As for Mount Sharp, the hiking is simply incredible amongst the beautiful (now native) conifer trees and other fauna.

Why not revisit what Mars might have been like when the rovers were exploring by visiting a simulator located in one of the many Hab Dome centers? You’ll be transported back to a time when red dust was as far as the eye could see, where there was no atmosphere, and even where there were no settlers! Thanks to terraforming, that’s no longer the case, but it’s always worth remembering just how far we Martians have come!

Let’s Visit: Moons of Mars — Phobos and Deimos

All you need to know about the two Martian Moons, Phobos and Deimos.

Mars Moons Phobos and Deimos
Credit: NASA

Orbiting Mars are two moons, Phobos and Deimos, with very similar surface materials to the many asteroids that make up the outer asteroid belt. In other words, Phobos and Deimos are two very big lumps of space rock — space rock with a fascinating history.

Who discovered Phobos and Deimos?

Credit: WikiData

Both moons of Mars were discovered in 1877 by American astronomer, Asaph Hall. However, what most space settlers don’t realise is that — like much of Earth’s history — there was a woman behind the discovery. 

Frustrated and deflated after years of work, Asaph was about to give up on his search for a moon that orbited the red planet. It was his wife, Angelina that encouraged him not to throw away his dreams quite yet. 

The next night, Asaph saw for the very first time (of the entire human species) the smaller of the two moons, Deimos, through the narrow viewfinder (although the best of the time) of the United States Naval Observatory (USNO) 66cm telescope. Just six nights later, he discovered Phobos.

Where do the names Phobos and Deimos come from?

phobos and deimos greek gods
Credit: Julia Van Hellen

After discovering the two Martian moons, Asaph Hall named them after twin characters from Greek mythology. Phobos and Deimos are the sons of Aphrodite, the Greek goddess associated with love, pleasure, beauty, passion and procreation, known to the Romans as Venus, and Ares — the Greek god which represents the untamed and violent aspect of war, whose Roman counterpart is Mars. 

The twins would often be depicted as horses, accompanying their father to battle. Phobos personified feelings of fear, while Deimos personified feelings of dread felt by those heading to war.

What are the characteristics of the two moons of Mars?

Moons of Mars phobos and deimos
Credit: NASA

Mars’ two moons are oddly shaped and among the smallest moons in our solar system. They are lumpy, riddled with craters, and covered with dust and loose rocks. Not sounding like a great holiday destination? Think again!

If you’re an adrenaline seeker, Phobos might actually be the place for you. As the larger of the two moons, Phobos orbits only 6,000 kilometers from the surface of Mars, that’s closer than any other moon. Not only that, Phobos whizzes around Mars at a rapid rate of three orbits a day. 

Don’t delay your visit too long, though, as the moon is gradually spiraling closer and closer to Mars; within 50 million years, Phobos will either crash or break apart and become part of the asteroid belt. Trust us, you don’t want to be taking you holiday on Phobos when that happens. 

If you’re looking for a more sedate holiday, Deimos is the moon for you. With an axis of only 16 km, Deimos is the perfect desert moon. The smaller of the two moons soars around Mars at a gentle orbit of 30 hours, around 20,000 km from the surface of the red planet, giving you glorious vistas without the fear of, well, fear (just a little Phobos humor we have around here). 

At least for now (before Phobos collides with Mars), the two moons might actually be the best place for observing the fiery red planet of Ares. From the Mars-facing side of the moons, Mars takes up nearly the entire sky, offering a perfect opportunity for surface assessment before terraforming. What’s more, you would be shielded from cosmic rays and solar radiation for nearly two-thirds of every orbit. It doesn’t get much better than that!

The Life of a Star-Settler: Living on Mars

Life on Mars

It’s been 50 years since the first settlers arrived and humans began living on Mars. 

May 18th, 2452: I’ve lived here on Mars all of my life, but that can’t be said for some of the old timers. They knew a different life before launching into the stars. Earth had been dying. Years of reckless fossil fuel burning, tail-to-tail traffic jams, and plundering Mother Earth of her natural resources led to the planet rebelling. Humanity needed an alternative, and our red cousin provided the answer.

I live in New Canterbury, named after the home of the engineers who designed one of the first transport ships, which is the most advanced of the red planet’s cities. We have a burgeoning population of settlers and Marsborn humans — funnily enough now referred to as Martians. The old timers sometimes look up to the skies and yearn for what once was, but me? Nah. This red rock is all I’ve known. 

Life whilst living on Mars

Life on mars

Life is pretty normal here, my home is stationed within one of the many Hab Complexes that make up New Canterbury. The city is high above what is now sea level on the slopes of Olympus Mons — a purposeful choice thanks to the rising sea levels. Sure, positioning a settlement on the slopes of the solar system’s biggest volcano might not sound sensible, but there hasn’t been a peep from it… yet. 

Our atmosphere is controlled enough that we’re able to breathe freely and walk the surface. In fact, nowadays, Mars looks much like earth. The vegetation and plant life is widespread, as are the oceans. It wasn’t always that way. My father had it hard. He remembers Mars as the red, dusty inhospitable rock that it was for millenia before us.

He worked the nearby silver mine. Tearing through the rusty rock for minerals which in turn we would use for our Martian currency. Thanks to those mines, and people like my father, our colony expanded rapidly. Our very own shining star, the Orbital Surveyor, crisscrossed our sky morning, day and night. It seeks out the most efficient and mineral rich areas to mine and has increased our revenue endlessly. With the help of the satellite, we’ve even expanded our mines deep into Valles Marineris, the monster 4000km long 7km deep canyon. Old timers have shown me photos of what they called “The Grand Canyon” that looks like a small crack compared with this.

At the other end of the spectrum, we looked to the sky for farming. Huge sky farms dominate areas of the atmosphere. Their purpose is simply to produce everything that we need to survive, whilst also maintaining our life-sustaining atmosphere.

What could be next after living on Mars?

We’re all fully aware that our world is fragile. It needs to be perfectly balanced, and constantly. Take, for example, yesterday’s AtomGen Suite shutdown. That caused some headaches, literally, as pressure and oxygen maintenance began to go offline and engineers worked around the clock to stabilize our environment. Thus is life as a Martian. 

What’s next for us? Who knows. Although, I’m beginning to see posters talking of Venus around the Varian V space port. I hear it’s warmer there, naturally. Maybe I’ll sign up to one of the ships there and lead the next terraforming expedition. After all, it’s a great big universe, and I’m here to settle the stars.

Maximum Mars: The Records that Mars Holds

Mars

Against giants such as Jupiter, what records can Mars hold? 

Our closest neighbour has remained a piece of intrigue to those of us on Earth for as long as it has been observed. Since its discovery by curious star-gazers belonging to ancient civilizations, Mars has fascinated our human population.

A relatively small, dusty, red rock, one could be forgiven for thinking that, apart from the striking red colour, this was a somewhat uninteresting and insignificant planet. Certainly not one that could hold record titles against other planets in the solar system. Well, this isn’t the case, there are in fact a number of record titles that Mars holds — titles which it looks to be holding onto for some time to come. 

Record Number 1: The Largest Canyon in the Solar System – Valles Marineris

Credit: JPL

Named for the satellite that discovered this area of Mars, Mariner 9, back in 1972, Valles Marineris is a vast canyon system that creeps and crawls through a region known as the Tharsis area. The canyons run along the surface of the red planet for over 4000km. They are over 200km wide in some places and up to 7km deep. Valles Marineris is, by volume, the largest in the solar system and is only just beaten in length by Earth’s own rift valleys.

If you’re looking for a straight forward comparison, think about the Grand Canyon in the US. The Grand Canyon is a mere 800km long and up to 1.6km deep. Valles Marineris is over 5 times as long and almost 4 times as deep in places! Much like the large canyons of Earth, researchers believe that Valles Marineris was created through extended periods of tectonic activity under the Martian surface.

Record Number 2: The Largest Volcano in the Solar System – Olympus Mons

Mars Volcano
Credit: NASA

Olympus Mons. Even the name sounds grand and imposing. Named after the Latin for Mount Olympus, the mythical seat of the Ancient Greek gods and home to Zeus, god of thunder, king of gods. Once more, sounds grand and imposing. And frankly, that’s rightly so.

Olympus Mons is the largest volcano in our solar system — and not by a little, but by a whole lot. After measurements were taken by the Mars Orbiter Laser Altimeter (MOLA), Olympus Mons was measured to be nearly 22km tall. That makes it around 2.5 times larger than Mount Everest when measured from sea level. The volcano takes the titles largest volcano and tallest planetary mountain but just misses out on the tallest mountain in the solar system by a bit of a loophole from Vesta.

You’d be forgiven for wondering what Vesta is. It’s one of the largest asteroids in the asteroid belt and has claim to the largest mountain, pipping Olympus Mons by only hundreds of metres. This mountain, however, was formed following a massive impact and is part of the Rheasilvia crater. Does that count? Well… just.

Record Number 3: The Largest Impact Crater in the Solar System – North Polar Basin

Credit: PSRD Hawaii

This record isn’t going to get such a good write up as technically it might not even be correct. The North Polar Basin has been hypothesised as an impact crater, and if classified as such would have a ratio of between 125-155% of the planet’s surface with a crater diameter of 10,600 × 8,500 km. But, this has not been recognized as fact by the IAU (International Astronomical Union).

Should it not be deemed an impact crater then this record will be passed to the previously mentioned Rheasilvia crater with a diameter of 505 km but a ratio of 90%.

Mars: The Record Breaker

As humankind begins to explore Mars further who knows which records it might gain or take mantle of in the future. Could it hold the largest known water reserves? The most minuscule life forms? Time will tell!

Origins of Science Fiction

How did science fiction begin?

Science Fiction

As long as humans have been capable of abstract thought, we’ve envisaged the future. What’s coming for us? How will we be different? Where might we go? What might we explore? Through this, different people have begun to prophesise, dream, and write about what this future might look like. That includes the different places we, as the human race, will visit, the other lifeforms that we’ll interact with, and how we’ll get to those places. This is where science fiction comes into play.

There’s the realm of science that attempts to hypothesise using facts, data, and historical information. This belongs to actual science and forecasting models. That is not of our concern today. Instead, we’re going to explore those who let their imaginations run wild. Those who might have been inspired by things they’d seen on Earth and imagined what those might be like on other planets. Those who looked at the sky and wondered what might be… then made it up. This is the realm of science fiction.

In order to explore science fiction, we’ll look into those most prolific of writers from recent history including H.G. Wells, Jules Verne, Ray Bradbury, Kim Stanley Robinson, and James S. A. Corey.

H. G. Wells

H.G. Wells Science Fiction writer

A personal favourite, H. G. Wells was the author of one of the original and greatest works of science fiction ever created, The War of the Worlds. Alongside Jules Verne, he is considered to be the father of science fiction as a genre. Whilst War of the Worlds (written in 1898) is, arguably, his most famous work, he also penned classics such as; The Time Machine (1895), The Island of Doctor Moreau (1896), and The Invisible Man (1897).

Our favourite H. G. Wells fact? When a version of The War of the Worlds was dramatised for radio in 1938 mass public panic ensued when listeners didn’t realise they were listening to a work of fiction and genuinely thought Earth was being invaded by Martians!

Jules Verne

Jules Verne Science Fiction Writer

Jules Verne is another of the world’s great writers, responsible for works such as Journey to the Center of the Earth (1864), Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (1870), and Around the World in Eighty Days (1873). Whilst the latter isn’t technically a work in science fiction, the other two greats were entirely science fiction even if they were Earthbound. Verne was a master of crafting fictional pieces of technology that inspired generations of science fiction readers. 

Interesting Verne fact: he’s still the second-most translated author of all time. 

Ray Bradbury

Most famous for his work Fahrenheit 451, Bradbury also penned many more pieces of work, including The Martian Chronicles. This science fiction short story fixup depicts the human race fleeing a dying Earth after war and atom bombs have devastated the planet and their colonisation efforts on the red planet. Bradbury goes into great detail regarding cultural clashes between the Martians who live there and the Earthlings who make their new home on already claimed land and takes on poignant topics such as colonisation, terraforming, racism, and sexism.

Kim Stanley Robinson

Having published no fewer than 19 novels that have been translated into at least 24 languages, Robinson is most famous for The Mars Trilogy. We’re particularly fond of Robinson for his works based around the possibility of terraforming other worlds (namely Mars). His trilogy offers viewpoints from that of colonists and gives great insight into what it might be like to live on a terraformed world. Thankfully, he tends to show this in a prosperous utopian light.

James S. A. Corey

Not one, but two authors Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck. Using the pen name James S. A. Corey, the pair have written an extensive series called The Expanse. Their works are rapidly expanding, and they are regularly writing for great works of science fiction including the Star Wars universe and have collaborated with George R R Martin on other works. As far as modern day science fiction writers go, we strongly recommend checking out James S. A. Corey.

The Origins of Science Fiction

From humble beginnings in the late 1800s to modern day, science fiction will remain part of our lives forever. As long as there are places to discover, worlds to explore, and technology to create, the human mind will imagine and soar. Here’s to that!

Extra-Terrestrial Options: Is Venus Better to Terraform Than Mars?

Venus and asteroids

Should we look to Venus for our best terraforming opportunity?

Humans have always looked to the red planet when they’ve dreamt of leaving Earth, but could Venus be a better choice to terraform than Mars? The two planets are worlds apart (excuse the pun) and the experiences would be wildly different for the inhabitants, but there are definite advantages to heading to Venus instead. Let’s take a look at how the two planets stack up.

Venus is considerably closer than Mars

It might sound like a bit of a technicality when such huge distances are involved, but Venus is considerably closer to Earth than Mars. We’re talking 14 million kilometers closer which would save between 30% to 50% travel time, making an enormous difference when shuttling supplies and people back and forth. No one wants to spend unnecessary days in transit every time they need to move between planets after all. It would also save a fortune in fuel, so it’s win-win really!

You can get a nice sun tan

This one might be a bit tongue in cheek as you definitely wouldn’t want to bask in a bikini outside in these parts, but Venus’s proximity to the sun would actually be a bonus when it comes to harnessing solar energy. Being able to use solar energy to provide power would be a big advantage, and Venus would offer a much better opportunity for this than Mars would. 

Added to this, the atmosphere on Venus is much more substantial, which would cut down on the amount of harmful radiation that made it to areas inhabited by humans. Mars wouldn’t offer us quite so much protection, and that would be a real concern for long-term habitation.

Humans don’t have to defy gravity on Venus 

Bouncing around in a weightless environment sounds like awesome fun, and it’s certainly entertaining watching footage of astronauts enjoying it on Mars, but would you really want to live like that all the time? Probably not. You want something a bit more down-to-earth, as it were! 

Venus’s gravity is very similar to Earth’s, meaning that the human body is already adjusted to the conditions. This would become important for permanent residents who would need to maintain bone density for health, and is another plus for Venus.

There’s an interesting atmosphere on Venus

And we don’t just mean the experience of hanging out there. The combination of atmospheric gases is interesting in its own right! Venus boasts a complex mix of carbon dioxide and sulfuric acid, with some nitrogen thrown in for good measure. The CO2 component is important as it would allow harvesting of oxygen for terraformers, and seeing as all habitation would happen suspended up in that atmosphere, there would be easy access to the gases.

Wait, we would live above the ground?

For all its advantages, Venus is by nature an inhospitable place at ground level. With a surface temperature of over 450 degrees Celsius, we humans would have to do a bit of adaptation before we can walk on the surface! However, a network of suspended dirigibles and air barges would be perfectly suited to making the most of what the planet has to offer, and this shouldn’t stop a terraforming effort on Venus compared to Mars. 

Is Venus is a more tantalizing terraforming candidate than Mars?

In the Venus vs Mars battle, Venus offers some interesting options on many criteria. It’s our nearest neighbor and our sister planet in size. Instead of restricting our terraforming ambitions just to the red planet, we should dream bigger. Venus all the way!

The History of How We Think of Venus

Illustration of Venus

Everything you need to know about the history of Earth’s mysterious neighbour.

From being viewed as two distinct stars, to a planet inhabited by “Venusians”, to being considered the second planet Earth, human perception of Venus has evolved through the ages. 

Named after the Roman goddess of love, likely due to its bright appearance, Venus has sat quietly in the sky while we make our own assumptions as to what it might contain and represent. Only through recent scientific developments have we been able to bring some clarity to what our neighbouring planet is and isn’t.

Ancient civilisations used to believe that Venus was two distinct stars

Due to its proximity to the sun, the illusion created by sunlight fooled the ancient Greeks and Egyptians into believing that Venus was actually two separate stars, visible at sunrise and sunset. These were named the morning and evening star respectively, and became the subject of worship for generations. The disproportionately brighter light given from Venus even earnt itself a mention in the Bible, being compared to Jesus himself. It took a few hundred years before the Greeks realised that Venus was a single object moving within Earth’s orbit, in what must have been a sobering moment for all involved. 

UFO spotters believe that aliens belonged to Venus

In ‘ufology’, the study of extraterrestrial life, it became very convenient to ascribe aliens to Earth’s closest neighbour. Going as far back as the 1950s, alien sightings were claimed to be of “Venusians” who had arrived on planet earth to make contact with humans. While most of the photo and video evidence was investigated and debunked, this hasn’t stopped the fanatical imagination with Venusian life, and conspiracies can still be found in blogs and videos via a quick internet search. 

The idea of Venusians has also made its way into science fiction movies and comics, showing that they are not only a hit with theorists, but with the entertainment industry too.

Some people believe that Venus may be Hell itself

Image of Venus

The mystery of the unknown gives license for the imaginative mind to wonder. None more so than Dr Michael Santini, a former aerospace engineer who wrote a book detailing how Venus is the physical embodiment of hell itself. While the ancient Greeks had beliefs concerning the physical existence of religious places, Dr Santini’s book demonstrates that similar opinions still exist in society today, despite advances in astronomy.

People believe that Venus used to be another planet Earth

These days, due to the wonders of 21st century science, we can be more sure of what Venus is, as well as what it could have been in the past.

It’s boiling hot. 900 degrees Fahrenheit, to be exact. It also has 92 times the pressure of Earth, its atmosphere a veritable blanket of sulfuric acid which clouds its visibility. Thanks to this, the planet is difficult to examine and has therefore been able to maintain a degree of mystique.

Scientists believe that Venus used to boast a cooler climate, similar to that on Earth. This has led to speculation that Venus is presenting us with an insight into the fate of our own planet, as climate change takes hold. While conditions on our sister planet would certainly not be able to support life as we know it, there has been evidence that bacteria could be living in the clouds, where the atmosphere is cooler.

When will we know for sure?

As we can see, the beliefs and discoveries we make about Venus are ever changing. From scientific discoveries to new theories based on faith and opinion, the mystery behind Earth’s sister planet means it will always be a playground for the imagination.

The History of How We Think of Mars

From canals to Martians, we take a look at the history of the Red Planet.

Illustration of Mars

It’s easy to pass cheap judgement on the brilliant minds of the past when we explore the history of Mars. But you might be forgiven for believing in Martians when you are viewing the planet from more than 50 million km away through the world’s first telescope. What we know about our dusty red neighbour has increased parallel to developments in astronomy and space technology, and we are still making new findings to this day. 

The first recorded observations of Mars were around 400BC

And you won’t be surprised to hear that in those times not a lot could be said for Mars. It was known simply as a fiery red colour in the sky. As was typical during this time, the Greeks decided to give this coloured dot a name. They chose the name Ares, after their god of war. The Romans preferred the name Mars, after their own warmongering deity, and the name stuck.

Galileo was the first person to see Mars through a telescope

Galileo - viewed Mars

The father of observational astronomy, Galileo Galilei, was the first to magnify the image of Mars via telescope in 1609. By the end of the same century, ideas about extraterrestrial life on Mars are considered for the first time. Fast forward to the end of the 18th century and, through advances in telescopic technology, the vital statistics for Mars had been uncovered. Most notably, its distance being 54 million km from Earth, its day being 39 minutes longer than Earth’s, and its two neighbouring moons. During this time, Sir William Herschel also concluded that not only do aliens live on Mars, but also the sun. Clearly, further investigation was still required. 

A simple translation error sparks Martian mania

In 1877 Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli described the lines he could see on Mars through his telescope as “canali”, which translates to “channels” in English. ‘Canali’ was misinterpreted to mean canal by American astronomer Percival Lowell. Considering canals to be a man/alien made entity, Lowell dedicated his life’s work to publishing books which suggested that Martians had been busy constructing a complex water supply system on Mars. As a result, Martian mania was born. 

Adding fuel to the fire, a young Orson Welles produced a radio adapted version of “The War of The Worlds”. Presented in storytelling format, the broadcast unintentionally beguiled New York listeners into fleeing their homes, in the belief they were under attack from the inhabitants of Mars. 

The world of media got wind of the fascination with Mars, and the idea of Martians gave inspiration for comics, movies and music. Rest in peace, David Bowie. 

It took until 1965 to debunk the existence of Martians

In a blunt and conclusive manner, the NASA-launched Mariner 4 space probe broadcasted to Earth images of a dusty barren wasteland. There was a collective groan from the conspiracy theorist community, and Martian mania was as good as over. 

While the fantasists amongst us felt disappointment, others saw an opportunity for a new home for humanity. Curiosity, the NASA space rover, was sent to Mars in 2012 to inspect whether its conditions would be suitable for supporting life on the Red Planet. While we have proven the lack of water on the surface of Mars, there remains hope that dormant life may be present beneath the surface. That is all we need for our imaginations to run wild!

Phobos and Deimos: Two Little Martian Potatoes

This is the story behind the doomed neighbours of the red planet

Ok, they’re considerably bigger than the potatoes that you might find in your local supermarket. But, if you magnified those potatoes you would have the perfect comparison for the two moons, Phobos and Deimos, that circle the dusty red planet in our solar system. This article will explore exactly how far we have come in our exploration of these distant little moons.

Phobos and Deimos are tiny moons in comparison to our own moon

23km and 6km wide respectively, to be exact, with a gravitational pull not even strong enough to give them a spherical form. For this reason, they have a potato-like appearance. It is believed that they were once part of the asteroid belt, until they were kicked out by the gravity of Jupiter and towards the orbit of Mars. 

The two little potato-shaped moons were discovered by Asaph Hall in 1877. We might have thought that by this time the Romans and Greeks would have little influence over the name of the colourful objects in our sky, but Hall decided, in tribute, to name them Phobos and Deimos, after the sons of the Greek god of war. 

The doomed moons of Mars

Phobos and Deimos Moons

Phobos is closer to Mars than Deimos and is making its way towards the planet at a rate of 2 meters per year. Not something to worry about for now, but in 50 to 100 million years it may crash into Mars. This would destroy any life that may come to exist on the planet during that time. There is however, a chance that the gravitational pull of Mars could rip Phobos into millions of pieces. You could consider this to be a natural defence by the planet. There is evidence of debris impact on Phobos. 

Less than 6000 miles from Mars, it is believed that explosions on the red planet have thrown debris into the sky. This caused craters and avalanches to form in the moon’s surface. Not content with being a lifeless wasteland, the red planet seems intent on destroying anything that comes too close.

Unlike Phobos, Deimos is slowly saying farewell to Mars. The smaller of the two moons, Deimos will leave Mars within the next few hundred million years. Once it has been cast off into space, Mars will go from a planet with two moons to a planet with none. Maybe that’s what happens when a planet takes its moons for granted. 

Will we ever visit Phobos and Deimos? 

Phobos and Deimos moons

The two seemingly insignificant and unimpressive moons actually contain important information for us on planet Earth. Confirming exactly how the potatoes formed will allow us to understand how planets formed around our sun. Not least, it will solve one of the more enduring mysteries to the planetary science committee. 

There have been attempts to explore the moons of Mars already. In 2011, two spacecraft were sent by Russia, but failed miserably in their mission. One of them became stuck in Earth’s orbit and crashed back down onto home soil. 

The Mars Moons eXploration mission of 2024 aims to visit the two moons in order to collect samples that will be returned to earth. Perhaps then, we can discover exactly where these two little potatoes originated from. Until that happens, the misshapen moons remain unknown and mysterious in our magnificent solar system.

Planets and Their Moons: New Moon Rising

Ever wondered about all the different moons surrounding nearby planets? 

Our solar system is home to 8 major planets (sorry Pluto, we’re still hurting too) but that’s not all. The vast majority of these celestial bodies have their own moons as well. That’s right, we’re not special. Sure, we named our moon, The Moon, but that term simply means an object that is in permanent orbit around a planet.

That’s right. We’re not special. In fact, we’re relatively unusual in the fact that we have only 1 moon. So, in order to put ourselves in our place, let’s have a look at each planet and see what their moons have to say for themselves.

Mercury

That’s right, this is going to be in a logical order or distance from the sun. 

Mercury has no moons. Sadly Mercury is just too close to the sun to be able to hold a moon. Sad times for Mercury.

Venus

Once again, no moons. We’re starting to not believe that Earth actually isn’t special at this point. 

It is believed that Venus did, once, have a moon but that it collided either into Venus itself or a passing body.

Earth

1 moon. Also known, somewhat arrogantly, as The Moon. Previously thought to be home to The Man in The Moon and often referred to as being made of cheese. Thankfully these — frankly horrifying — concepts have been debunked. We’re all hoping Mr. Musk and NASA gang up soon and get mankind back onto the surface ASAP.

Mars

2 moons! Deimos and Phobos. Theorized amongst astronomers as potentially just being slightly larger asteroids that got caught up on Mars’ gravitational force.

Jupiter

Ok, now we’re talking. As we get into the first of the gas giants the number of moons begins to dramatically increase. Jupiter has at least 79 moons! That is quite the flex on those smaller planets within the asteroid belt!

For the purpose of this piece we won’t list every single moon, rather focus on the big 4 which are visible with the naked eye under dark sky conditions. The big 4 are Ganymede, Callisto, Io, and Europa. Because of their relatively larger size, these 4 have been considered by terraforming theorists as potential settlement bases.

Saturn

Image of Saturn - moons

Slightly less than Jupiter but still a huge number of moons, Saturn has 62 moons in orbit. Once again, there are 4 moons visible to the naked eye. Titan, Rhea, Iapetus, and Dione. 

Special mention goes to the relatively newly photographed Mimas. Mimas is an especially brilliant moon because it has a giant impact crater (called Herschel) on its northern hemisphere which makes it look exactly like the Deathstar from Star Wars. This was first spotted by Cassini back in 2010, and likely gave the observers something of a shock.

Uranus

Image of Uranus - Moons

27 moons here for Uranus. Obvious moon-ing jokes aside, there are 4 noticeably larger moons as with the other gas giants, but these aren’t visible to the naked eye. You’ll need at least an 8-10 inch telescope to see them. Titania , Oberon, Umbriel and Ariel are the largest. Another 4 bodies that have been considered for terraforming.

Neptune

Image of Neptune - Moons

The number reduces again, seemingly in conjunction with the further we get from the Sun, as Neptune rings in only 14 moons. Triton is the only moon of note, which is actually large enough to be considered a dwarf planet. In fact, astronomers believe it may have been captured after ejection from the Kuiper Belt. 

Bonus – Pluto

Image of Pluto - moons

Ok, we still feel bad, so Pluto makes the list. Even if we didn’t feel bad, there’s some merit to adding in Pluto, a dwarf planet stripped of its place in our Solar System, as it has not 1, not 2 but 5 moons! Sure, they’re so small and far away that they can’t be seen using any amateur telescope but that’s still impressive. One of the moons, Charon, is actually considered a dwarf planet itself and part of Pluto’s binary system… which calls into question – is Charon Pluto’s moon, or is Pluto Charon’s moon? The plot thickens… 

…we still heart you, Pluto.