In Greek Mythology, Phobos and Deimos are the horses that carry the chariot of Ares, god of war. The name Phobos means "fear," which is where we get words like phobia.

Ares' Roman counterpart is Mars, who lent his name to the fourth planet of the Solar System. It is therefore appropriate that the red planet's two moons are named after the war god's chariot horses.

Phobos is the inner and larger of the two. Discovered in 1877 by astronomer Asaph Hall, it is, like its outward companion Deimos, probably a captured asteroid. Its mean radius is 10.8 kilometers, with a minimum of 9.4 kilometers and a maximum of 13.5 kilometers. Lacking the uniform spherical shape of a normally formed moon, its most prominent feature is the 10 km wide crater Stickney, after Hall's wife's maiden name. Phobos and Deimos are similar in composition to the C-type (C for carbon) asteroids of the asteroid belt, which may give evidence of their origin. Phobos' density of 2.0 g/cm3 is too low for it to be entirely rock, though, which suggests the presence of large amounts of ice.

Phobos lacks an atmosphere, and its mass of 1.08e16 kilograms is far to small to hold one. Measurements made by NASA's Mars Global Surveyor in 1998 give strong evidence that its surface is covered with a meter-thick layer of dust, formed over millennia of asteroid impacts unhindered by atmospheric friction.

Phobos' mean distance from Mars' center is 9378 km (less than 6000 km from the planet's surface), beneath the synchronous orbit radius. As a result, tidal forces are doing just the opposite of what they're doing to Earth's moon: Phobos' orbit is falling at an accelerating rate, currently 1.8 meters per year. At some point in the future, likely 50 to 100 million years, Phobos will either crash into Mars' surface or break up into a ring of debris similar to those orbiting Saturn.



Phobos is also an excellent album by the Canadian progressive metal masters Voivod. Recorded in 1998, it was probably their best work since Nothingface. It's not an immediate album by any means, taking several listens to even begin to absorb. But the sheer complexity of the music keeps it from getting old.

Lacking any catchy melodies, the music blends 1970's progressive "space rock" (an extra track is a cover of King Crimson's 21st Century Schizoid Man), the precision-crafted thrash metal of the 1980's, and the mechanical sounds of some of the more inventive industrial musicians, particularly Killing Joke. The severe, death metal-ish dissonance of the guitars and the jazz-like syncopation of their rhythms creates an extraordinary effect I've never heard anywhere else.

The album artwork is astonishing. Using what appear to be pencils and watercolors, drummer Michel Langevin created a booklet full of images that live up to the album's title - every one of them will leave you feeling phobic of something or another. They're disturbingly vivid.

The lyrics follow a conceptual theme, but neither I nor (apparently) anyone but the band themselves know exactly what that theme is. This isn't unusual for concept albums - Queensryche listeners are still arguing about how Mary died - but the lyrical style here is so nebulous that even a vague outline might be wrong. What follows is simply my interpretation.

The Voivod character of the band's earlier albums has been resurrected from an eons-long underground, deathlike sleep by the sadistic god that made him. Though nominally mechanical, he (Anark, my E2 namesake) seems more like a cross between Cthulhu and the Straumli Blight of Vernor Vinge's A Fire Upon the Deep. The former guardian/tyrant of a planet whose inhabitants have progressed too far for the god's whim, his new task is to take control, creating fear (phobos!), strife, and disease; and ruling the planet's once Promethean people as a Vlad Tepes-like autocrat in a dark age without hope. He conquers and fortifies some (metaphorical?) Tower, fending off resistance but nearly being destroyed in the process.

Behind the Tower's walls, he enters an inexplicable quantum state and replicates himself, creating thousands of doubles so that he may never die. Note that I found no mention of Heisenberg compensators anywhere. In his newfound multiplicity, the Voivod invents a device to control his subjects' minds with neutrino beams. Hmm... maybe the particle physics I spent a semester racking my brain with has some use after all!

His mission complete, Anark the Voivod finds himself the tired, weak, vassal ruler of a war-ravaged planet populated by mindless automata. His self-replication experiments have left him with perhaps the worst case of schizophrenia in the known universe. Yet somehow he gained some semblance of free will during his struggle, and curses his god and master, wishing to overthrow him and return his world to its former freedom and prosperity.

The story shall continue...

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