Is it tumbleweed? A piece of fishing line? Spaghetti? A tangled object discovered by NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover has intrigued space observers, leading some to wonder about the quality of Italian cuisine on the Red Planet. But the most plausible explanation is more prosaic: most likely, it is the remains of a component used to land a rover on the Martian surface in February 2021.
“We have been discussing where it’s from, but there’s been speculation that it’s a piece of cord from the parachute or from the landing system that lowers the rover to the ground,” a spokesman for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory told AFP. “Note that we don’t have confirmation that it’s one or the other,”
The pile of debris was first spotted on July 12 by the rover’s forward left hazard avoidance camera, but when Perseverance returned to the same spot four days later, the object was gone. It was likely blown away by the wind, like a piece of thermal blanket from the rocket-powered landing system seen last month.
The accumulating debris left behind by Perseverance is considered a small price to pay for the rover’s noble scientific goals of searching for biosignatures of ancient microbial life forms. And these objects can become valuable artifacts for future colonists of Mars.
“In a hundred years or so Martians will be eagerly collecting up all this stuff and either putting it on display in museums or making it into ‘historical jewelry,'” tweeted amateur astronomer Stuart Atkinson.
By the way, on Wednesday, July 27, at 11:00 a.m. EST, NASA will hold a teleconference for the media to discuss the structure of its campaign to return samples from Mars.
NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) recently conducted a review of system requirements as part of the conceptual design phase of the Mars Sample Return campaign, a phase where the plan is refined and solidified. The briefing will present the proposal, which is expected to be completed in September 2022.
The audio recording of the teleconference will be streamed online here. A campaign to return Martian samples could fundamentally change humanity’s understanding of Mars by returning scientifically selected samples for study using the world’s most advanced instruments. This strategic partnership with ESA will be the first mission to return samples from another planet, including the first launch from the surface of another planet. The samples to be returned – currently being collected by Perseverance while exploring Crater Lake, home to the delta of an ancient river – are considered the best opportunity to reveal the early evolution of Mars, including the potential for life.
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