A new study published in Nature on Monday found that Mars' moon Phobos will soon disintegrate to form a ring system around the planet approximately 20 million to 40 million years from now, according to the news release. Phobos is currently spiraling closer and closer to Mars and researchers are pointing to the long grooves on its surface as signs of its impending disintegration.
In order to determine the nature of Phobos' inevitable demise, the researchers used information such as its density and strength and combined them with a model used to estimate rock strength. Using the calculations gained from this process, they determined that the weakest parts of the moon will form a ring approximately 20 million years from today.
When Phobos eventually breaks up, scientists say that the process will happen very quickly - likely in the span of only days to weeks.
"If you were standing on the surface of Mars, you could grab a lawn chair and watch Phobos shearing out and spreading into a big circle," said Benjamin Black, coauthor of the study.
In the future, spacecraft could be used to gain further measurements of Phobos, including its internal strength, in order to gain more insight into the disintegration process. Back in 2012, this was attempted when a Russian probe was sent to Phobos, although it later fell back to Earth, according to Nature.
"The crash of the spacecraft is a very big tragedy for the whole science community," says Alexander Zakharov, the project scientist of the failed probe mission. "With samples from this moon we can get information about the origin of the Solar System."
In addition to Phobos, researchers have also predicted that Neptune's moon Triton may also be on the path towards disintegration.