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Sci-Tech

NASA spots Mars' lumpy potato-like moons

NASA's 2001 Mars Odyssey spacecraft catches sight of Mars' weird little moons in a fun animated GIF.

Saturn gets all the moon glory in our solar system, but NASA hasn't forgotten the two weird little satellites orbiting Mars. The agency's 2001 Mars Odyssey spacecraft got a fresh look at the two flying potatoes this month. NASA then shared a fascinating animation of the two moons.

Phobos is the foreground while Deimos is in the background.

NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/SSI

The GIF is made up of 19 images. "The apparent motion is due to progression of the camera's pointing during the 17-second span of the February 15, 2018, observation, not from motion of the two moons," says NASA.

Phobos and Deimos look like ugly ducklings compared to Earth's relatively spherical moon, but they are interesting places. Phobos is 17 miles (27 kilometers) at its widest and has a large carter and a series of grooves etched into its surface. Dainty Deimos is just 9 miles (15 kilometers) at its widest and sports a lot of small craters, which enhances its spud-like look.

The 2001 Mars Odyssey mission is impressively long-lived. It launched in the spring of 2001 and arrived at Mars later that year. It's been surveying the Martian surface and studying the minerals and chemical elements below. Its ability to turn and keep an eye of Mars' moons is a more recent development. The new images represent only the second time Odyssey has taken a look at Phobos.

And in case you're wondering about the name, 2001 Mars Odyssey is a nod to the Arthur C. Clarke sci-fi story "2001: A Space Odyssey."