Aug 182013


Phobos is the larger of two moons orbiting Mars. It was discovered by astronomer Asaph Hall on this date in 1877, at the United States Naval Observatory in Washington, D.C., at about 09:14 Greenwich Mean Time (GMT).  Hall also discovered Deimos, Mars’s other moon, on August 12, 1877 at about 07:48 GMT. The names, originally spelled Phobus and Deimus respectively, were suggested by Henry Madan (1838–1901), Science Master at Eton College, based on Book XV of The Iliad, in which the god Ares summons Dread (Deimos) and Fear (Phobos), his sons by Aphrodite. Ares is the Greek version of the Roman god of war, Mars. Deimos and Phobos are, thus, apt names whether you think of Mars as war, or Mars as a planet.


Phobos is probably the best studied natural satellite in the solar system, and its close orbit around its parent planet produces some unusual effects. It orbits Mars below the synchronous orbit radius, meaning that it moves around Mars faster than Mars itself rotates. Therefore it rises in the west, moves comparatively rapidly across the sky (in about 4 h 15 min or less) and sets in the east, approximately twice each Martian day (every 11 h 6 min).


Phobos has internal diametric dimensions of 27 × 22 × 18 km, and is too small to be rounded under its own gravity. Its surface area is slightly less than the land area of the state of Delaware. It is one of the least reflective bodies in the Solar System. Spectroscopically it appears to be similar to the D-type asteroids, apparently made of carbonaceous chondrite or something similar. Phobos’s density is too low to be solid rock, and it is known to have significant porosity. It has even been speculated that it is hollow.


Faint dust rings produced by Phobos and Deimos have long been predicted but attempts to observe these rings have failed so far. Recent images from Mars Global Surveyor indicate that Phobos is covered with a layer of fine-grained regolith (rock dust) at least 100 meters thick; it is hypothesized to have been created by impacts from other bodies, but it is not known how the material sticks to an object with almost no gravity. Phobos is heavily cratered, the most prominent being Stickney crater, named after Asaph Hall’s wife, Angeline Stickney Hall. It is believed that Phobos will eventually break up, forming a dust and rock ring around Mars.


Phobos has been proposed as an early target for a manned mission to Mars. The tele-operation of robotic scouts on Mars by humans on Phobos could be conducted without significant time delay, and there are fewer logistical problems with creating a colony on Phobos than on Mars. A lander bound for Mars would need to be capable of atmospheric entry and subsequent return to orbit, which has never been attempted. Otherwise the colony would have to be permanent, also raising enormous logistical (and ethical) issues.  A lander intended for Phobos could be based on equipment designed for lunar and asteroid landings. The human exploration of Phobos could then serve as a catalyst for the human exploration of Mars as well as being scientifically valuable in its own right.

The advanced preparation for colonizing Mars or Phobos has involved some curious experiments. HI-SEAS (Hawai’i Space Exploration Analogue & Simulation), led by Cornell University and the University of Hawaii at Manoa and funded by NASA , aimed to learn more about how to keep astronauts healthy and happy during long space journeys, and when establishing colonies on other planets. They set up a geodesic dome in a remote part of Hawai’i where “colonists” lived for 118 days in complete isolation.  If they wished to leave the dome they had to don space suits, and were limited in their excursions.

mars6  mars7

One of the chief concerns was making sure they were satisfied with the meals they ate which had to be created from a variety of dehydrated and shelf-stable items.  Throughout the mission they rated all of their meals and kept detailed records of their moods, body mass and health. There were several immediate conclusions from the mission: herbs and spices are essential, as are comfort foods (which for North Americans included peanut butter and Nutella). Getting enough fiber was a problem because shelf-stable goods are usually highly processed and, therefore, lack sufficient fiber content.  There are many recipes available on their website here.  This one, a prize winner, is taken directly from their recipe lists with minimal editing. You can see it satisfies the need for rich flavor and high fiber content.  It has a rather long ingredient list and takes time to prepare, which I imagine would be a positive thing for colonists with the need to diversify their activities in order to stave off boredom and monotony.

Moroccan Beef Tagine


2 ½ cups Thrive Freeze-dried Roast Beef with 2 cups water
¼ cup dehydrated Onions with ½ cup water
½ cup dehydrated Bell Peppers Mixed with 1 cup water
2 tbsp Oil, Extra Virgin
2 tbsp dehydrated Garlic
½ cup Dried Apricots
½ cup Raisins
1 cup Cashews
¼ tsp Salt & black Pepper
2 tsp Paprika
½ tsp Cumin
1 tsp Powdered Ginger
1 tsp primario chili pepper
½ tsp Cinnamon
1 Sazon Goya packet
Pinch of Saffron
2 tbsp Honey
1 cup Couscous with 1 ½ cups water
1 tbsp Cilantro
3 cups Basmati rice
2 cups water

In a large container, reconstitute the beef.

Rough chop the dried apricots.

In a large heavy bottomed pot, add the garlic and olive oil and set the heat to medium. Once the oil is hot, add the raisins and apricots, covering the bottom of the pot.

Let them sit there and cook; you’ll want the sugars in these sweet fruits to caramelize. Let the fruit brown without burning.

Once the fruits have sufficiently been browned, add the dried onions and the dried mixed bell peppers and cook until the onions and peppers begin to develop some color.

Set the pot to low heat. Add salt and pepper, and stir to coat.

Add the beef, along with the water. Add cashews, paprika, powdered ginger, sazon goya, cumin, and 2 tablespoons of honey. Add a pinch of saffron (a little goes a long way), along with chili pepper (or cayenne pepper) and cinnamon.

Add 2 cups water – make sure your pot has enough liquid so that it doesn’t dry up, and is at a slow simmer, covered.

Let the tagine cook, covered, at as low heat as your stovetop. It should be starting to thicken to a stew-like consistency. If it’s starting to get too thick too early, add some more water.

Make the Basmati rice in a rice cooker.

In a saucepan, bring 1 ½ cups of water to a boil. Add 1 cups of couscous, remove from the heat and allow to sit, covered, until the couscous absorbs all of the water. Couscous should be light and fluffy, not stuck together. Remove the lid and lightly salt the couscous, add cilantro, and a ½ tsp extra virgin olive oil. Fluff with a fork.

Serve the tagine over the couscous and basmati rice.

[The original recipe does not mention yield, but based on the ingredients I would say this could serve 6-8]