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Sixteen years after entering Mars orbit Mars Odyssey finally made its first observations of the Martian moon Phobos last week.
Since Odyssey began orbiting the Red Planet in 2001, THEMIS has provided compositional and thermal-properties information from all over Mars, but never before imaged either Martian moon. The Sept. 29 observation was completed to validate that the spacecraft could safely do so, as the start of a possible series of observations of Phobos and Deimos in coming months.
In normal operating mode, Odyssey keeps the THEMIS camera pointed straight down as the spacecraft orbits Mars. In 2014, the spacecraft team at Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver; and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California; and the THEMIS team at Arizona State University, Tempe, developed procedures to rotate the spacecraft for upward-looking imaging of a comet passing near Mars. The teams have adapted those procedures for imaging the Martian moons.
The data from this particular observation is less significant than the fact that the spacecraft can now do it. Expect some new results about the Martian moons in the coming months.