NASA’s Mars Odyssey spacecraft has been orbiting the Red Planet since its launch in 2001, and continues to send back stunning images to Earth. The latest shows Mars’ moon Phobos, which is only about 15 miles (about 25 kilometres) across, going through its natural lunar cycle, much like our Moon, including waxing, waning and full phases.

However, using the spacecraft’s Thermal Emission Imaging System (THEMIS) instrument, NASA has been able to measure the temperature of Phobos as less sunlight reaches the moon as it begins to hide behind Mars.

For example, moons do not shine – they reflect. When sunlight reflects off the near side, it is called a Full Moon.

The rest of the month we see parts of the daytime side of the Moon, or phases.

These eight phases are, in order, new moon, waxing crescent, first quarter, waxing gibbous, full moon, waning gibbous, third quarter and waning crescent.

The same process happens on Phobos, and less temperature and heat reach the moon when it is hiding, allowing for a multi-coloured image of Mars’ moon.

NASA said: “As of March 2020, our Mars Odyssey spacecraft has captured these six views of the Martian moon Phobos.

“The orbiter’s infrared camera, the THEMIS, is used to measure temperature variations that provide insight into the physical properties and composition of the moon.

“Chronologically, the views represent waxing, waning and full phases of the moon.

“On Feb. 25, 2020, Phobos was observed during a lunar eclipse, where Mars’ shadow completely blocked sunlight from reaching the moon’s surface.

“This provided some of the coldest temperatures measured on Phobos to date: The coldest measured was about -189 degrees Fahrenheit (-123 degrees Celsius).

“On March 27, 2020, Phobos was observed exiting an eclipse, when the surface was still warming up.

“All of the THEMIS infrared images are colourised and overlain on THEMIS visible images taken at the same time, except for the eclipse image, which is overlain on a computer-generated visible image of what Phobos would have looked like if it wasn’t in complete shadow.”

NASA has recently launched another mission to Mars – the Perseverance rover.

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Perseverance launched on July 30, is set to arrive at Mars next year, and when it does, it could be the best bet for finding life on the Red Planet.

While this rover will be just one of many on the red planet, it is our best chance of finding life there for the time being.

Perseverance is attached with an instrument called SHERLOC.

NASA said: “The main instrument, the Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman & Luminescence for Organics & Chemicals (SHERLOC), will be mounted on the end of one of the Mars rover’s robotic arms.”

SHERLOC will emit a quarter-sized ultraviolet laser at the ground. Space scientists will then measure the way the light scatters when it hits the ground to work out what kind of minerals and chemical compounds it is made from.

The technique will also identify the unique spectral “fingerprint” certain alien organic material might give off.

Extraterrestrial life experts hope this can track down potential signs of past alien life.

NASA’s Luther Beegle told the JPL news blog: “Life is clumpy. If we see organics clumping together on one part of a rock, it might be a sign that microbes thrived there in the past.”

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