New photos of Phobos taken by China’s Tianwen-1 orbiter

New photos of Phobos taken by China's Tianwen-1 orbiter

Credit: CNSA

Two fundamental factors affect all astrophotography: time and location. If a camera is in the right place at the right time, it can capture images that have never been seen before. And with the proliferation of cameras throughout the solar system, more and more new photos will be captured with ever-increasing frequency. China’s Tianwen-1 probe has been added to this new collection to celebrate its second anniversary by snapping a photo of Mars’ moon Phobos.

The image itself is magnificent, with a clear definition of many features of the object, the length of which is not much greater than that of Manhattan. Seen in bright sunlight, or as it might be called on Earth, as a “full moon”, there are a few streaks visible in the upper left corner of the photo, which may indicate relatively recent impacts. Additionally, a crater named after Estonian astronomer Ernst Öpik is visible at the top right of the image. Other features, named after other astronomers and characters from Gulliver’s Travels, are not as clear in the image because the space around Öpik crater is largely featureless.

Chinese interest in Phobos is not new either. He had originally planned to launch his first orbital mission to Mars, known as Yinghuo-1, on a rocket that also contained Russia’s Fobos-Grunt sample-return mission to Mars’ deepest satellite. Unfortunately, this spacecraft failed to reach its necessary trajectory and crashed on Earth in 2012.






Video showing the image of Tianwen-1 from Phobos. Credit: SciNews YouTube channel

This kind of setback, however, does not preclude a good space agency. Tianwen-1 is China’s current flagship mission to the Red Planet, with the orbital probe that imaged Phobos comprising just one of six separate spacecraft that entered the Mars system in one of the most large payloads ever sent there. They actively collected new scientific data using a suite of instruments on rovers, landers and satellites.

Most likely, there is no new scientific data in this image of Phobos that has not already been captured elsewhere. In its current circular orbit 6,000 km above the surface of Mars, there aren’t many changes to make. However, inspiration is also one of the goals of astrophotography, and this unique view of a unique and surprising moon certainly provides that.

New photos of Phobos taken by China's Tianwen-1 orbiter

Selfie of Tianwen-1 above the surface of Mars. Credit: CNSA

These aren’t the only fantastic images Tianwen-1 has taken, either. A few months ago, he released a full surface image of Mars. Using cameras on some other components, it even managed to take a few selfies both on and above the Red Planet. Its lander and rover were also captured by NASA’s Mars Orbiter HiRISE camera.

With all the cameras floating around the planet, future astrophotography enthusiasts can expect a steady stream of never-before-seen images. Hopefully they will inspire even more to come.


The Chinese Tianwen-1 photographed the entire surface of Mars, fulfilling its main mission


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Quote: New photos of Phobos from the Chinese orbiter Tianwen-1 (2022, August 22) retrieved on August 22, 2022 from https://phys.org/news/2022-08-pics-phobos-china-tianwen- orbiter.html

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