Watching the latest footage of a solar eclipse on Mars gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “out of this world.”
Earlier this month, NASA’s Perseverance rover spotted one of Mars’ moons, Phobos, passing across the Sun. The 40-second eclipse was captured by the rover’s Mastcam-Z camera system. It is a partial solar eclipse because of the moon’s size. While Phobos is the larger of Mars’ two moons, it is still extremely small, measuring 17 x 14 x 11 miles in diameter. Its small size means that there can never be a total eclipse on Mars. No matter what, parts of the sun will always peek out from behind the shadows of Mars’ moons.
This is not the first solar eclipse spotted from Mars. Other rovers have captured eclipses from the planet’s surface many times before, including this one from 2012, as seen by the Curiosity rover:
But this new footage is the “most zoomed-in video of a Phobos solar eclipse yet – and at the highest-frame rate ever,” according to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). The Mastcam-Z camera is a major upgrade to the cameras of previous rovers. It is a zoomable color camera and has a solar filter “that acts like sunglasses to reduce light intensity,” according to JPL. The result? We can see Phobos’ craggy shadow passing across the Sun, along with some sunspots dotting our star’s orange surface.
“I knew it was going to be good, but I didn’t expect it to be this amazing,” Malin Space Science Systems’ Rachel Howson, one of the people who operates the Mastcam-Z camera, said in a statement.
In addition to just being cool, the footage is also helpful to scientists studying Phobos’ orbit and its relationship to Mars. As the moon orbits the planet, the two bodies exert a gravitational pull on each other. Phobos tugs on Mars’ crust and interior, and Mars’ gravity pulls the moon toward the planet, changing its orbit. In fact, Phobos has a pretty limited lifespan. It’s getting pulled toward Mars at a rate of more than 6 feet every century, and scientists think that the moon will eventually be pulled apart in the next tens of millions of years. Fortunately for us, that still leaves plenty of time for rovers to capture gorgeous videos like the one released this week.