Viking First Encounter of Phobos: Preliminary Results

Science  06 Jan 1978:
Vol. 199, Issue 4324, pp. 61-64
DOI: 10.1126/science.199.4324.61


During the last 2 weeks of February 1977, an intensive scientific investigation of the martian satellite Phobos was conducted by the Viking Orbiter-1 (VO-1) spacecraft. More than 125 television pictures were obtained during this period and infrared observations were made. About 80 percent of the illuminated hemisphere was imaged at a resolution of about 30 meters. Higher resolution images of limited areas were also obtained. Flyby distances within 80 kilometers of the surface were achieved. An estimate of the mass of Phobos (GM) was obtained by observing the effect of Phobos's gravity on the orbit of VO-1 as sensed by Earth-based radiometric tracking. Preliminary results indicate a value of GM of 0.00066 ± 0.00012 cubic kilometer per second squared (standard deviation of 3) and a mean density of about 1.9 ± 0.6 gram per cubic centimeter (standard deviation of 3). This low density, together with the low albedo and the recently determined spectral reflectance, suggest that Phobos is compositionally similar to type I carbonaceous chondrites. Thus, either this object formed in the outer part of the asteroid belt or Lewis's theory that such material cannot condense at 1.5 astronomical units is incorrect. The data on Phobos obtained during this first encounter period are comparable in quantity to all of the data on Mars returned by Mariner flights 4, 6, and 7.

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