Scientists are not far from exploring one of Mars’ biggest mysteries: when and how the red planet’s small moons were formed. As part of the Mars Moons Exploration Mission, which is a Japan-led mission, a sample will be collected from one of the moons and brought back to earth. Gathering more information about Mars’ moons is expected to help scientists learn more about how the solar system works.
David Lawrence is the chief engineer for NASA’s instrument, MEGANE, which will be on the Japanese spacecraft that will travel to Mars’ moons in 2024.
“As [Japan moves] forward and works on their mission, they want to work with the international community more than they have in the past,” said Lawrence. “So they came to NASA and said will you help us carry out this mission?”
NASA went on to produce an instrument that measures composition.
“It’s an instrument that measures gamma rays and neutrons,” said Lawrence. “They tell you information about what the elements are on the surface.”
MEGANE will visit the two Martian moons, Phobos and Deimos. It will land on the surface of Phobos and collect a surface sample.
“Phobos is the more attractive one for a variety of scientific reasons,” explained Lawrence. “There’s also going to be flybys of Deimos as well so you can do reconnaissance of what Deimos looks like. You want to try to tie the two together. It’s almost certain their formation has to be linked in some way, but right now we don’t have the evidence to prove that.”
The name of NASA’s instrument, MEGANE, means “eyeglasses” in Japanese. It will give the Mars Moons Exploration Mission the ability to “see” the elemental composition of Phobos.
The launch is planned for 2024, and the plan for the sample to return to earth is in 2029.