Martian moon skims by giant Jupiter

Sequence showing Phobos graze Jupiter
Sequence showing Phobos graze Jupiter (ESA)

Europe’s Mars Express probe has captured an astonishing close encounter between the red planet’s larger moon Phobos and Jupiter.

A space movie shows Phobos move in on and partly cover the giant planet in what astronomers would call a graze occultation.

The rare line-up between the orbiting spacecraft, Phobos and Jupiter happened on June 1. At the time the martian moon lay 7,077 miles (11,389 km) from Mars Express and Jupiter was 329 million miles ( 529 million km) away.

Mars Express’s High Resolution Stereo Camera homed in on Jupiter for the whole event, so that it stayed centred in the frame. A total of 104 images were taken over 68 seconds using the camera’s super-resolution channel.

Apart from providing an impressive sight, the images will have a scientific use too. They will help to verify and even improve on planetary scientists’ information about the martian moon’s orbit.

3D image of Phobos and Jupiter

Experts at the Department of Planetary Sciences and Remote Sensing at the Institute of Geological Sciences of the Freie Universität Berlin processed the images from the spacecraft to produce the spectacular movie.

If you’ve got a pair of red-and-blue 3D glasses check out the team’s fantastic rendering of a view of Phobos and Jupiter. Click to enlarge and see the giant planet’s belts.

In March last year, Mars Express swooped within 42 miles of Phobos, returning spectacular photos of its surface, including giant crater Stickney.

It was the closest ever approach to the 17 mile wide, potato-shaped moon which is thought to be an asteroid captured by Mars’s gravity. The planet also has a smaller moon, nine mile wide Deimos.

Paul Sutherland

Paul Sutherland

I have been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. I write regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy. I have also authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.
Paul Sutherland

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Paul Sutherland

I have been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. I write regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy. I have also authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.

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