NASA on Thursday shared a fresh look at the Curiosity Rover and got to witness two solar eclipses of the red planet. Mars has two moons, Phobos and Deimos, that are small and distinct from our satellite. Phobos, the larger of the two satellites, is just 16 miles across the planet.
NASA has shared some shadowy phenomena from March 25 and some dramatic GIFs of Phobos and daintier Deimos passing in front of the sun. Curiosity’s mast-mounted camera is equipped with solar filters that act like eclipse glasses, so it can safely stare into the sun.
On Mars, the planet witnesses a solar eclipse nearly every day. The Martian moon Phobos’s orbit is almost directly over its equator, whereas our moon, on the other hand, is in a tilted orbit, which makes the Earth, sun, and moon not line up as very often.
On the other hand, the Earth experiences solar eclipses as part of a spectacular event, which is the result of a complete coincidence. The moon, in the moments it passes between Earth and the sun, is just the right size to cover the sun entirely from where we stand. The moon covers it out, revealing the sun’s atmosphere, the giant glowing solar corona.
On March 17, the much smaller satellite Deimos made its slow crawl past the sun. It’s more like a transit of the sun than an eclipse, but still with a quite neat view. The Phobos eclipse occurred on March 26. Phobos is found in a very fast orbit around the Red Planet that completes an entire revolution in about eight hours. Hence rising and setting multiple times on a typical Martian day which is approximately 37 minutes longer than ours. Phobos is also incredibly close to Mars, thus orbiting at a distance of 3,700 miles, whereas our moon is 239,000 miles away. Deimos is even tinier, about 8 miles across, orbiting Mars once every 30 hours.
This isn’t the first time that curiosity has captured images of a solar eclipse. These observations help scientists better understand each moon’s orbit around Mars. Curiosity has been exploring the surface of Mars since 2012.