The Moon and the planet Mars look almost close enough to touch each other tonight. They perch high overhead at nightfall, and curl down the northwestern sky later on. Mars looks like a bright orange star quite near the Moon. At their closest, which comes around or soon after nightfall, they'll be separated by not much more than the width of the Moon itself.
Mars actually has a couple of moons of its own, but they're not much to brag about. Both are potato-shaped rocks that are less than 20 miles across.
The larger of the two is Phobos. It's also closer to Mars than its sister moon, Deimos. At its low altitude, Phobos scoots across the sky in a hurry. In fact, it orbits Mars about three times a day, so it actually rises in the west and sets in the east. From the surface of Mars, it looks like a very bright star.
Deimos is more than twice as far from Mars, and it's a lot smaller. As a result, it's a lot fainter than Phobos, and it moves more slowly across the sky.
Although they're not much to look at, the little moons could be resources for future Mars explorers. They might make good orbital bases, for example. And we may someday excavate the moons for the raw materials needed to build and operate Martian colonies -- like metals, and perhaps even ice.
Phobos and Deimos are far too faint to see from Earth. But Mars itself is in grand view -- huddling close to our own Moon into the wee hours of the morning.
Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2008
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