Mars may one day get its very own rings just like Saturn. According to some researchers, Mars’s moon Phobos is heading inwards towards the planet. Eventually, this may cause the moon to break apart. If it does this, the debris will create a ring system similar to that of Saturn’s. Don’t be too excited, though, the whole process will take millions of years.
What is planetary ring system?
Planetary ring systems are formed in two ways. The first is by ice and dust, similar to the rings around Saturn. Scientist believe that the particle have been captured by a planet’s gravity and are prevented from combining into a moon by that gravity. The rings are visible because of the light that the particles reflect. Some of the moons within the rings system have ice geysers that some scientist think are constantly replenishing the rings.
A second way is through impact. If a large enough asteroid were to impact a planet, dust and rock debris would be thrown into space. That debris would then be captured by the planet’s gravity. Scientists believe that the debris will fall back to the planet, but do not know how long it would take. Mars would form a ring system in this second way.
There is no debate whether the Mars’ moon is heading towards the planet. It’s actually getting closer every hundred years by six and a half feet. Still, with the planet being millions of miles from Phobos, it’s expected to take upwards of 50 million years for the moon to actually collide with the planet.
There is a debate, however, over whether or not the moon with break apart. Some think the moon might actually collide rather than break apart. It all depends on how strong the planet actually is. What the moon is made out of and how dense it is will depend on whether it collides with the surface of Mars or if it breaks apart to become the rings that one day might grace the Martian sky. Meteorites have been recovered that may help point to what exactly Phobos is made out of. According to some researchers, they believe it is porous.
The force that would end up pulling it apart is the tidal force of Mars. This is the exact force that causes the tides here on Earth. While gravity pulls the moon toward the Earth, the moon also pulls on Earth. This causes the water on Earth to be pulled toward the moon, thus leading to the appearance of tides. The rise of the waters moves up and down with the movement of the moon. Mars is constantly pulling on Phobos. This causes the material that the moon is made out of to be pulled apart. This force can actually produce heat in the moon itself. That is why scientists believe the moon Europa may have liquid water under the layers of ice.
If the moon is pulled apart, a ring system will eventually form that will be as thick as Saturn’s. However, over time the ring system will slowly diminish as the material and debris slowly falls towards the planet. This process might take up to 100 million years to complete. Adding this time to the time it will take for the moon to actually fall and it’s about 150 million years for the entire process, from falling to forming a ring and back to falling to the planet, to actually take place.
This isn’t a process that is uncommon in space. All of the gas giants of our solar system have rings. However, Saturn still has the largest and most observable. Even Jupiter boasts a ring system along its 50 official and 12 unofficial moons. The formation of these rings was all due to a same process taking place on Mars. Moons and other objects break apart as they are pulled towards the planet. The debris then flattens out as is orbiting the planet.