Martian moon Phobos transiting (crossing) face of sun, September 13   Photo credit NASA/JPL-Caltech

Martian solar eclipses differ markedly from Earth’s solar eclipses in that our moon can totally eclipse the sun.  Though it orbits much closer to Mars than does our moon to Earth, Phobos is only 14 miles across as opposed to our moon, which is about 2,160 miles across.

The other Martian moon, Deimos, is smaller than Phobos and much farther away from the Red Planet.  Scientists believe both Deimos and Phobos are asteroids captured by Martian gravity ages ago.

Unlike on Earth, where photographers get a lucky shot by pointing their cameras at the right place at the right time, luck had nothing to do with Mastcam’s performance.  Curiosity’s mission managers and scientists had plans to aim the Mastcam skyward in the works for quite some time.

“Actually, there are . . . three opportunities in the next month or so where we’ll image those transits,” says Curiosity mission manager Jennifer Trosper, of NASA’s JPL in Pasadena.

“They’re neat opportunities to see a unique scientific observation,” Trosper continued, adding that NASA’s Spirit and Opportunity rovers, which landed on the Red Planet in January of 2004, have taken similar photos.

Scientists say such transit shots can refine researchers’ understanding of the orbits and orbital evolution of Phobos and Deimos.

From September 14-17, the rover logged 282 feet on the surface of Mars, bringing its total odometry (changes in position related to a known position, usually referring to robotic movement) since landing to 745 feet.

Source:   Space.com  September 18, 2012


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