No, Mars didn’t grow 12 more moons — here’s what’s happening in this stunning picture

No, Mars didn’t grow 12 more moons — here’s what’s happening in this stunning picture
Mars is accompanied by 13 little Phobos moons in this new photograph. J. Bell and M. Wolff/NASA
Mars is accompanied by 13 little Phobos moons in this new photograph. J. Bell and M. Wolff/NASA

It’s a standard fact from grade-school science lessons: Where Earth has one moon, Mars has two, Phobos and Deimos. So why does this new photograph appear to show a row of 13 tiny moons orbiting the red planet?

It turns out this photograph is actually 13 different photographs of Mars and Phobos — taken over a span of 22 minutes by the Hubble Space Telescope — layered together.

A 22-minute time lapse shows Phobos’ fast track around Mars. J. Bell and M. Wolff /NASA/ESA/Z. Levay

Phobos is covering an awful lot of ground for 22 minutes, since it clocks a full lap of Mars in just 7 hours and 39 minutes.

That’s right: Phobos manages a full orbit in the time you spend at the office each day. In fact, it’s the only moon that circles its planet faster than the planet rotates, in part because it travels closer to its planet than any other moon in our solar system.