Tushar Mittal and Benjamin Black from the University of California, Berkeley wanted to know what processes a moon might undergo as it moves inward toward a planet. "While our moon is moving away from the Earth at a few centimeters per year, Phobos is moving toward Mars at a few centimeters per year, so it is almost inevitable that it will either crash into Mars or break apart," Black said.

Only one other moon in the solar system, Neptune's largest moon Triton, is known to be moving closer to its planet. The researchers projected that though inevitable, the demise of Phobos is not imminent and the ring will persist for anywhere from one million to 100 million years.

Estimating the cohesiveness of Phobos, they concluded that it is insufficient to resist the tidal forces that will pull it apart when it gets closer to Mars. Dismembering it is analogous to pulling apart a granola bar - scattering crumbs and chunks everywhere,  Black said.

The resulting rubble from Phobos - rocks of various sizes and a lot of dust - would continue to orbit Mars and quickly distribute themselves around the planet in a ring. The study appeared online in the journal Nature Geoscience.

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