The United Arab Emirates’ (UAE) Amal spacecraft has captured the most detailed images to date of Deimos, Mars’ smaller moon, as it orbited within 62 miles (100 kilometers) of the celestial body. The images, released on Monday, provide an unprecedented look at the oddly shaped, cratered moon, which measures roughly 9 by 7 by 7 miles (15 by 12 by 12 kilometers). This is the closest any spacecraft has been to Deimos in almost half a century, offering valuable insights into the lesser-known far side of the moon.
Amal, which means “Hope” in Arabic, also managed to capture Mars photobombing some of the images. The spacecraft’s close proximity to Deimos was possible due to its orbit around Mars, which stretches 14,000 miles (23,000 kilometers) out and is near the inner part of Amal’s orbit. The new images have led scientists from the UAE Space Agency to challenge the prevailing theory that Deimos is an asteroid captured in Mars’ orbit eons ago. Instead, they suggest that Deimos may be of Martian origin, potentially derived from Mars itself or its larger moon, Phobos.
The findings were presented at the European Geosciences Union’s general assembly in Vienna. Amal is expected to continue observing Deimos throughout the year, albeit not as closely as during its March 10 encounter. The last time a spacecraft was in such close proximity to Deimos was in 1977 when NASA’s Viking 2 came within 19 miles (30 kilometers) of the moon.