The Martian moons Phobos and Deimos may have accreted from a ring of impact debris, but explaining their origin from a single giant impact has proven difficult. One clue may lie in the orbit of Phobos that is slowly decaying as the satellite undergoes tidal interactions with Mars. In about 70 million years, Phobos is predicted to reach the location of tidal breakup and break apart to form a new ring around the planet. Here we use numerical simulations to suggest that the resulting ring will viscously spread to eventually deposit about 80% of debris onto Mars; the remaining 20% of debris will accrete into a new generation of satellites. Furthermore, we propose that this process has occurred repeatedly throughout Martian history. In our simulations, beginning with a large satellite formed after a giant impact with early Mars, we find that between three and seven ring–satellite cycles over the past 4.3 billion years can explain Phobos and Deimos as they are observed today. Such a scenario implies the deposition of significant ring material onto Mars during each cycle. We hypothesize that some anomalous sedimentary deposits observed on Mars may be linked to these periodic episodes of ring deposition.
Subscribe to Journal
Get full journal access for 1 year
only $15.58 per issue
All prices are NET prices.
VAT will be added later in the checkout.
Rent or Buy article
Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.
All prices are NET prices.
Rivkin, A. Near-infrared spectrophotometry of Phobos and Deimos. Icarus 156, 64–75 (2002).
Burns, J. A. in Mars (eds Kieffer, H. H., Jakowsky, B. M., Snyder, C. W. & Matthews, M. S.) 1283–1301 (Univ. Arizona Press, 1992).
Cameron, A. G. W. & Ward, W. R. The origin of the Moon. In Abstr. Lunar Planet. Sci. Conf. Vol. 7 120–122 (1976).
Charnoz, S., Salmon, J. & Crida, A. The recent formation of Saturn’s moonlets from viscous spreading of the main rings. Nature 465, 752–754 (2010).
Crida, A. & Charnoz, S. Formation of regular satellites from ancient massive rings in the solar system. Science 338, 1196–1199 (2012).
Craddock, R. A. Are Phobos and Deimos the result of a giant impact? Icarus 211, 1150–1161 (2011).
Rosenblatt, P. & Charnoz, S. On the formation of the Martian moons from a circum-Martian accretion disk. Icarus 221, 806–815 (2012).
Citron, R. I., Genda, H. & Ida, S. Formation of Phobos and Deimos via a giant impact. Icarus 252, 334–338 (2015).
Canup, R. M. & Salmon, J. On an origin of Phobos-Deimos by giant impact. In 47th Lunar Planet. Sci. Conf. Abstr. 2598 (2016).
Leone, G., Tackley, P. J., Gerya, T. V., May, D. A. & Zhu, G. Three-dimensional simulations of the southern polar giant impact hypothesis for the origin of the Martian dichotomy. Geophys. Res. Lett. 8736–8743 (2014).
Nimmo, F., Hart, S. D., Korycansky, D. G. & Agnor, C. B. Implications of an impact origin for the Martian hemispheric dichotomy. Nature 453, 1220–1223 (2008).
Andrews-Hanna, J. C., Zuber, M. T. & Banerdt, W. B. The Borealis basin and the origin of the Martian crustal dichotomy. Nature 453, 1212–1215 (2008).
Marinova, M. M., Aharonson, O. & Asphaug, E. I. Mega-impact formation of the Mars hemispheric dichotomy. Nature 453, 1216–1219 (2008).
Marinova, M. M., Aharonson, O. & Asphaug, E. Geophysical consequences of planetary-scale impacts into a Mars-like planet. Icarus 211, 960–985 (2011).
Murray, C. D. & Dermott, S. F. Solar System Dynamics (Cambridge Univ. Press, 1999).
Black, B. A. & Mittal, T. The demise of Phobos and development of a Martian ring system. Nat. Geosci. 8, 913–917 (2015).
Rosenblatt, P. et al. Accretion of Phobos and Deimos in an extended debris disc stirred by transient moons. Nat. Geosci. 9, 581–583 (2016).
Yoder, C. F. Tidal rigidity of Phobos. Icarus 49, 327–346 (1982).
Scheeres, D. J., Hartzell, C. M., Sánchez, P. & Swift, M. Scaling forces to asteroid surfaces: the role of cohesion. Icarus 210, 968–984 (2010).
Kite, E. S., Halevy, I., Kahre, M. A., Wolff, M. J. & Manga, M. Seasonal melting and the formation of sedimentary rocks on Mars, with predictions for the Gale Crater mound. Icarus 223, 181–210 (2013).
Hurford, T. A. et al. Tidal disruption of Phobos as the cause of surface fractures. J. Geophys. Res. Planet. 121, 1054–1065 (2016).
Werner, S. C. & Tanaka, K. L. Redefinition of the crater-density and absolute-age boundaries for the chronostratigraphic system of Mars. Icarus 215, 603–607 (2011).
Salmon, J., Charnoz, S., Crida, A. & Brahic, A. Long-term and large-scale viscous evolution of dense planetary rings. Icarus 209, 771–785 (2010).
Bath, G. T. & Pringle, J. E. The evolution of viscous discs - I. Mass transfer variations. R. Astron. Soc. 194, 967–986 (1981).
Toomre, A. On the gravitational stability of a disk of stars. Astrophys. J. 139, 1217–1238 (1964).
Anderson, J. D. Jr Computational Fluid Dynamics (McGraw-Hill, 1995).
Duncan, M. J., Levison, H. F. & Lee, M. H. A Multiple time step symplectic algorithm for integrating close encounters. Astron. J. 116, 2067–2077 (1998).
Takeuchi, T., Miyama, S. M. & Lin, D. N. C. Gap formation in protoplanetary disks. Astrophys. J. 460, 832–847 (1996).
Esposito, L. Planetary Rings (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2006).
Goldreich, P. & Tremaine, S. The excitation of density waves at the Lindblad and corotation resonances by an external potential. Astrophys J. 233, 857–871 (1979).
Meyer-Vernet, N. & Sicardy, B. On the physics of resonant disk-satellite interaction. Icarus 69, 157–175 (1987).
The authors would like to thank B. Horgan, M. Ćuk, E. Asphaug, A. Jackson and K. Walsh for their advice and support. A.J.H. was supported under the NASA Earth and Space Science Fellowship: 16-PLANET16F-0127. D.A.M. was supported under the NASA Emerging Worlds Grant: NNX16AI31G.
The authors declare no competing financial interests.
About this article
Cite this article
Hesselbrock, A., Minton, D. An ongoing satellite–ring cycle of Mars and the origins of Phobos and Deimos. Nature Geosci 10, 266–269 (2017) doi:10.1038/ngeo2916
The Astrophysical Journal (2019)
Planetary and Space Science (2019)
Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets (2019)
Three Dynamical Evolution Regimes for Coupled Ring-satellite Systems and Implications for the Formation of the Uranian Satellite Miranda
The Astronomical Journal (2019)