In about 20 million to 40 million years, Mars may have rings similar to that of Saturn, according to a new study conducted by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley. The red planet’s largest moon Phobos is slowly moving towards the planet. But it won’t smash into the surface of Mars. Instead, the satellite will be shredded, and rocky debris will form a ring around the planet.
Phobos slowly moving towards Mars
Whether Phobos will crash into Mars or break apart depends on the moon’s internal strength, said Tushar Mittal, the co-author of the study. As Phobos moves closer to its host planet due to gravitational pull, the tidal stresses will increase. If it is too weak to withstand rising tidal stress, Phobos will most likely break apart. Phobos is only 23 kilometers wide, and is moving toward Mars by two meters every century.
Scientists simulated the physical stress that the red planet exerts on Phobos. They also studied the strength of the Martian satellite, including its composition and density, to determine how much stress it could withstand. They found that Phobos is made up of heavily damaged, porous rock. It is neither completely rigid nor a complete rubble, said Mittal. Findings of the study were published in the journal Nature Geoscience.
Saturn and Jupiter had many more moons in the past
The moon has been weakened by the ancient impact. And tidal forces continue to put stress on Phobos, slowly pulling it apart. Scientists estimated that the moon would break up between 20 million and 40 million years, forming a ring of rubble around Mars. The debris would continue to move inward, but at a slower pace than Phobos is travelling. These rock particles will eventually rain down on the Martian equator over a span of one million to 100 million years.
The iconic rings of Saturn and Jupiter were also formed by colliding moons. Currently, Jupiter has 67 moons while Saturn boasts of 62 satellites. They both had many more moons millions of years ago.