Perseverance captures clearest video yet of a solar eclipse on Mars
A solar eclipse on Earth is usually a sight to behold, and for NASA rovers tasked with exploring Mars, alignments of its moons and the Sun are also good reason to look upward. The Perseverance rover has used its advanced camera system to capture the clearest view yet of a solar eclipse on Mars, which will aid scientists in better understanding the behavior of its doomed moon, Phobos.
NASA's history with recording solar eclipses on Mars dates back to 2004 when Spirit and Opportunity made the first observations of Phobos traversing the Sun. In 2019, Curiosity recorded the first ever video of the event and even scored a two-for-one, with the tiny moon Deimos transiting the Sun in the same month.
These events further scientists' understanding of shifts in Phobos' orbit and the way tidal forces tug on Mars' interior, crust and mantle. The moon is destined for destruction in tens of millions of years as it spirals toward the Red Planet, and these eclipse events also shed light on the path it is taking toward its eventual demise.
The latest took place on April 2 and lasted around 40 seconds, with Perseverance turning its Mastcam-Z camera toward the Sun and capturing all the action. Because of its next-generation functionality, Perseverance was able to zero in on its target and capture the most zoomed-in video of a Phobos solar eclipse ever taken, also at the highest-ever frame rate.
“I knew it was going to be good, but I didn’t expect it to be this amazing,” said Rachel Howson, one of the Mastcam-Z team members who operates the camera.
Mastcam-Z is also kitted out with solar filters that act like sunglasses to reduce the intensity of the light, showing the eclipse in colored detail that reveals interesting characteristics about the moon's shape.
“You can see details in the shape of Phobos’ shadow, like ridges and bumps on the moon’s landscape,” said Mark Lemmon, a planetary astronomer with the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colorado. “You can also see sunspots. And it’s cool that you can see this eclipse exactly as the rover saw it from Mars.”
Check out the video of the eclipse below.