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The origin of the Martian moons revisited

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Abstract

The origin of the Martian moons, Phobos and Deimos, is still an open issue: either they are asteroids captured by Mars or they formed in situ from a circum-Mars debris disk. The capture scenario mainly relies on the remote-sensing observations of their surfaces, which suggest that the moon material is similar to outer-belt asteroid material. This scenario, however, requires high tidal dissipation rates inside the moons to account for their current orbits around Mars. Although the in situ formation scenarios have not been studied in great details, no observational constraints argue against them. Little attention has been paid to the internal structure of the moons, yet it is pertinent for explaining their origin. The low density of the moons indicates that their interior contains significant amounts of porous material and/or water ice. The porous content is estimated to be in the range of 30–60% of the volume for both moons. This high porosity enhances the tidal dissipation rate but not sufficiently to meet the requirement of the capture scenario. On the other hand, a large porosity is a natural consequence of re-accretion of debris at Mars’ orbit, thus providing support to the in situ formation scenarios. The low density also allows for abundant water ice inside the moons, which might significantly increase the tidal dissipation rate in their interiors, possibly to a sufficient level for the capture scenario. Precise measurements of the rotation and gravity field of the moons are needed to tightly constrain their internal structure in order to help answering the question of the origin.

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Rosenblatt, P. The origin of the Martian moons revisited. Astron Astrophys Rev 19, 44 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00159-011-0044-6

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