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Last Updated: Wednesday, 10 March, 2004, 11:18 GMT
Nasa rovers view Martian eclipses
Phobos eclipse, Nasa
Phobos is the larger and nearer of the two Martian satellites
Nasa's Mars rover Opportunity has begun recording eclipses on the Red Planet, the first time the phenomenon has been witnessed on another world.

The rover's panoramic camera has taken pictures of the moons Deimos and Phobos as they passed in front of the Sun on 4 March and 7 March respectively.

Mars is currently in the middle of an eclipse season, during which its moons will pass repeatedly across the Sun.

The eclipses don't look like Earth ones as Mars' moons have irregular shapes.

"They will be pretty cool events and a first for the world's space programme," Jim Bell, head of Nasa's panoramic camera, or pancam, team told BBC News Online.

The Sun is about 20 pixels across in the image. Deimos is the smaller of the two satellites and further out from Mars than Phobos.

They will be pretty cool events and a first for the world's space program
Dr Jim Bell, Nasa
Nasa will create animations of the phenomena by combining multiple still pictures taken at different stages during the eclipses. The pancams cannot capture continuous video.

But the moons' passes across the Sun are very fast, so mission scientists have to carefully time when to take the pictures.

"They both happen very quickly, Deimos ones take about one minute to pass across the Sun and the Phobos ones take about 20-30 seconds or so. We can only take images about once every five to 10 seconds," said Dr Bell.

Deimos eclipse, Nasa
Irregular Deimos makes its track across the Sun
Dr Bell said he hoped the pictures and the animations would engender interest in the public and scientists alike.

Scientists might find the data interesting for two major reasons. The timing of the different eclipses will provide data to help model changes in the orbits of the satellites.

Scientists will also take a profile image of Phobos in order to refine estimates of its shape, volume and density.


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