Astronomers of the future could have a very different view of the solar system in the next few million years.
As The Verge reports, Mars' gravitational pull is ever-so-slowly tearing apart one of its two moons, Phobos, which will lead to the space rock's destruction within the next 20 million years (give or take). Once that eventually happens, scientists theorize the debris will form a ring around our celestial neighbor, much like the one that currently surrounds Saturn.
The discovery came about just recently, as a team of researchers studied detailed models of Phobos’ makeup, trying to pinpoint what was causing shallow grooves on the moon’s exterior. Scientists had initially thought they were just left behind from when the moon formed, or from debris bouncing off — but now they think there’s a whole lot more to the story.
New computer modeling suggests the grooves are really the visual signs of Martian gravity slowly ripping the moon apart. Basically, think of them as “stretch marks” as Mars pulls the moon approximately 6.6 feet closer in orbit every 100 years. The moon is already the closest in the solar system to its host planet, so give it some time, and this will eventually not end well for Phobos.
Using those same models to look millions of years into the future, they believe the moon will eventually crack apart and create a ring around the planet. The pieces too big to be absorbed into the ring will likely crash to the planet (so, future settlers should be on the lookout).
The team detailed the discovery in a new paper published in Nature Geosciences.
(Via The Verge)