NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover snapped incredible photos of a brief partial solar eclipse on the desolate planet, capturing images as the tiny Mars moon Phobos crossed the face of the sun briefly.
The Curiosity rover took the pictures of the moon Phobos on Thursday (September 13), about five weeks after it landed inside Mars’ Gale Crater on August 5, reports Space.com.
The images were taken with the rover’s Mast Camera (Mastcam), and show that the solar eclipse of Phobos is incredibly different from what we’re used to seeing on Earth. The reason is because Earth’s moon is about 2,160 miles across, making it big enough to block out the solar disk entirely when the two are in perfect alignment.
Even during a partial eclipse of the sun, people on Earth are treated to an impressive celestial event. Despite the fact that Phobos orbits much closer to Mars than our moon does to Earth, it is only 14 miles across, making it so that Phobos only takes a small bite from the sun when it undergoes a solar eclipse.
Sky News notes that Mars’ other moon, Deimos, is even smaller than Phobos, and is farther away from the planet as well, making it darken even less of the sun when it transits the solar disk. Many scientists believe that both of Mars’ moons are actually asteroids that the planet’s gravity captured a long time ago.
Because Phobos is closer to Mars than our moon is to Earth, the Red Planet experiences solar eclipses far more often than we do. Another partial solar eclipse is expected to take place in about a year.
This is also not the first time a Mars rover has documented an eclipse, as the Opportunity rover recorded video of one Mars moon passing the sun back in November 2010. The Mars Curiosity rover is equipped with 17 cameras, a seven-foot-long robot arm, and a suite of 10 state-of-the-art scientific sensors.