A MARTIAN moon mining mission millions of miles from Earth has been given the go-ahead.
The world-first plan will see Japan send a probe to mystery moon Phobos to drill for samples – before returning to Earth years later.
Japan plot to probe Phobos
Pint-sized Phobos is the innermost of Mars' two moons – the other being Deimos.
Both of the moons were discovered in 1877, and have long tempted space explorers.
The irregularly shaped satellite has a diameter of about 14 miles, and is named after the Greek god of fear.
It orbits 3,700 miles from the Martian surface, but is a staggering 48.3million miles from Earth.
Japan Phobos mission – when does it begin?
Japan's space agency JAXA has been hoping to probe the space rock for years.
And now the mission has been given the all-clear to begin.
A new H-3 rocket will launch the probe in September 2024, entering Martian orbit by the next summer.
The probe would then study Phobos over three years, including a landing to collect rock and sand samples.
And it would return to Earth with these samples in September 2029.
What is Phobos and why is Japan drilling it?
Japan has already demonstrated its ability to drill into space rocks.
Last year, the Hayabusa 2 probe allowed JAXA to collect samples from the Ryugu asteroid.
Ryugu is also significantly smaller than Phobos, at just 0.6 miles wide.
Phobos has long been a source of mystery and intrigue for astronomers.
Its tiny size means gravity on Phobos is just one-thousandth that of Earth's.
Surface temperatures on the mysterious space rock range peak at around -4C / 25F on the sunlit side.
But on the shadowy back-side, this drops to a frosty -112C / -170F.
We don't know for sure, but scientists think Phobos is likely a rubble pile held together by a thin crust.
And Phobos is getting closer to Mars by about 6.5 feet every 100 years.
Here's what you need to know about the red planet…
- Mars is the fourth planet from the Sun
- It is named after the Roman god of war
- The landmass of Mars is very similar to Earth but due to the difference in gravity you could jump three times higher there than you can here
- Mars is mountainous and hosts the tallest mountain known in the Solar System called Olympus Mons, which is three times higher than Everest
- Mars is considered to be the second most habitable planet after Earth
- It takes the planet 687 Earth days to orbit the Sun
- So far, there has been 39 missions to Mars but only 16 of these have been successful
The cost of Japan's mission – named MMX – to Phobos is estimated at around 46.4billion year ($415million / £321million).
That's around double the cost of the Hayabusa 2 probe mission.
In other news, Nasa has released a mind-blowing photo of the ISS crossing the Moon – while Mars eerily glows red in the background.
A supersonic 990mph Nasa X-plane as quiet as the "thump of a car door" is nearly ready.
Nasa recently revealed a surreal photo of Earth taken from 4billion miles away.
And a space rock shaped like a snowman that formed 4.6billion years ago may have sparked life on Earth.
What do you make of this Martian mission? Let us know in the comments!
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