The Mastcam-Z camera recorded video of Phobos, one of the Red Planet’s two moons, to study how its orbit is changing over time.
NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover has captured dramatic footage of Phobos, Mars’ potato-shaped moon, crossing the face of the Sun. These observations can help scientists better understand the moon’s orbit and how its gravity pulls on the Martian surface, ultimately shaping the Red Planet’s crust and mantle.
Captured with Perseverance’s next-generation Mastcam-Z camera on April 2, the 397th Martian day, or sol, of the mission, the eclipse lasted a little over 40 seconds – much shorter than a typical solar eclipse involving Earth’s Moon. (Phobos is about 157 times smaller than Earth’s Moon. Mars’ other moon, Deimos, is even smaller.)
The images are the latest in a long history of NASA spacecraft capturing solar eclipses on Mars. Back in 2004, the twin NASA rovers Spirit and Opportunity took the first time-lapse photos of Phobos during a solar eclipse. Curiosity continued the trend with videos shot by its Mastcam camera system.
But Perseverance, which landed in February 2021, has provided the most zoomed-in video of a Phobos solar eclipse yet – and at the highest-frame rate ever. That’s thanks to Perseverance’s next-generation Mastcam-Z camera system, a zoomable upgrade from Curiosity’s Mastcam.
“I knew it was going to be good, but I didn’t expect it to be this amazing,” said Rachel Howson of Malin Space Science Systems in San Diego, one of the Mastcam-Z team members who operates the camera.
Howson noted that although Perseverance first sends lower-resolution thumbnails that offer a glimpse of the images to come, she was stunned by the full-resolution versions: “It feels like a birthday or holiday when they arrive. You know what’s coming, but there is still an element of surprise when you get to see the final product.”