When a spacecraft screams through Mars’ atmosphere at some 12,000 mph, releases a giant supersonic parachute, and ultimately abandons said parachute along with rocket-powered landing gear and a heat shield, it’s inevitable that debris will scatter over the Martian landscape.
In June, NASA’s Perseverance rover spotted paper-like trash caught between some rocks. And in July, the rover stumbled across what is likely a tangle of cord, perhaps from the parachute.
The internet has labeled this a “mystery object.” But its origins, near where the Perseverance rover landed in 2021, aren’t too mysterious. Perseverance rumbled by its parachute and other landing gear in April. NASA’s car-sized robot hasn’t traveled too far from its landing spot, journeying 7.3 winding miles through the Jezero Crater, a place planetary scientists think once teemed with water.
In other words, the rover is driving through a zone of landing debris.
A tangle of landing debris from the Perseverance rover’s descent through Mars’ atmosphere.
Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech
The NASA Perseverance rover will almost certainly find more trash as it explores the red planet. It has a packed schedule. It’s currently:
There’s still no evidence, however, that life has ever existed anywhere beyond Earth. But on Mars, a dried-up river delta in the Jezero Crater may hold some compelling clues.