NASA Detours MAVEN To Steer Clear Of Incoming Phobos

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PHOTOGRAPH: NASA | Screen cap from Wikimedia Commons.

Phobos – largest of Mars’ moons – gave NASA a run for its money. Thanks to the timely intervention of the tracking team, MAVEN narrowly made it to safety.

Even for a colossal realm as space is, it’s no rarity for two objects to cross paths from time to time. In most cases, these encounters result in an impact, but that doesn’t necessarily threaten Earth’s affairs. Except in MAVEN’s case, one of Mars’ largest moon was about to bump into it. Considering, the moon – Phobos – is 15 miles wide and MAVEN is barely the size of a mini-bus, a detour was the only option. Correspondingly, the engineers steered the Mars orbiter to safety and successfully averted the impending mishap.

Mars Atmospheric and Volatile Evolution [MAVEN]

NASA’s Mars adventure found a talisman in the form of MAVEN upon its successful orbiting in Sept. 2014. Since then, MAVEN was on its orbit and collecting data until Phobos came around. Mars’ largest moon, Phobos, is nothing but a huge chunk of rock capable of annihilating anything the size as MAVEN has. Besides, such a disaster would incur in financial losses in the excess of $650 million.

Important to comprehend the fact that orbiters are generally configured to tread on a path so as to avoid encountering other objects. However, things don’t go always as planned. NASA didn’t waste time to take action and succeeded in maneuvering MAVEN to a slightly different path. As foreseen by the engineers, MAVEN and Phobos were due to miss each other only by 7 seconds on March 6. After the shift in MAVEN’s orbit, albeit, they will miss each other by two and half minutes.

Delving into the technical aspects, engineers propelled MAVEN by 0.4 meters per second to achieve the shift. As opposed to MAVEN’s less than one mile per hour speed, overall velocity was increased. Needless to say, Phobos will tread close to MAVEN still, yet the aircraft is devoid of any harm. National Aeronautics and Space Administration hadn’t faced such hindrances since MAVEN’s launch, until now.

Phobos – Future

Phobos, on the other hand, is heading on a road to disaster. Not in the near future, but millions of years down the road. The study of Phobos’ path over the years shows that it is coming dangerously close to Mars. If the same trend persists – likely, it will – Phobos is due to crash on Mars. This, in turn, will break Phobos into small debris that will linger around Mars like a spiral for million more years.

Consistent research over the years is opening up the unseen truths that lurk in the enigma that is space. Even though the theory of Phobos’ collision seems too far away, it’s important on similar grounds. More the humans delve into space and its constituents, it never ceases to amuse – MAVEN and Phobos alike.


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