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Bad Neighbor: Mars May Literally Be Tearing Its Own Moon Apart

It appears that Mars has a problem with its closest neighbor.

It appears that Mars has a problem with its closest neighbor.

The Red Planet is closer to Phobos, one of its two moons, than any other planet and its moon in our solar system. But just under the surface of that cozy relationship, it looks like Mars is literally tearing Phobos apart.

Of course, as with many tumultuous relationships, the final breakup won't come for a long time -- 30 to 50 million years, scientists say. A new model by NASA researcher Terry Hufford and others suggests that grooves on the surface of Phobos are the result of the tug of war its engaged in with Mars, as the planet pulls its moon closer at a rate of about 6.6 feet every century -– and not the result of a major impact as had previously been thought.

Image: Mars’ moon Phobos
New modeling indicates that the grooves on Mars’ moon Phobos could be produced by tidal forces -– the mutual gravitational pull of the planet and the moon. Initially, scientists had thought the grooves were created by the massive impact that made the Stickney crater (lower right).NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona

“We think that Phobos has already started to fail, and the first sign of this failure is the production of these grooves,” Hufford said in a NASA web post.

Read More: Mars Shows Strong Signs of Flowing Water, Researchers Say

Hufford and his fellow researchers presented their findings on Phobos’ “stretch marks” on Tuesday at the Meeting of the Division of Planetary Sciences of the American Astronomical Society.

Why Is Mars Red?

Sept. 22, 201400:43

Mars has had its own trials and tribulations over the long, long years in space. Billions of years ago the dry, cold, dusty planet may have been much friendlier and even had seas. But researchers recently published data from a probe orbiting Mars that points to how all that changed, as violent solar storms tore away almost all of the planet’s ancient atmosphere.