NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover has captured an unexpected image, that of a shiny piece of foil stuck on a rock on the red planet. The piece of foil is part of a thermal blanket that may have come from the descent stage of the rocket that landed the rover and the Ingenuity Mars helicopter on the planet.
But what is interesting is that the descent stage crashed about 2 kilometers away. So scientists aren’t sure whether the object landed there during the descent or if it was blown there by the Martian winds.
“My team has spotted something unexpected: It’s a piece of a thermal blanket that they think may have come from my descent stage, the rocket-powered jet pack that set me down on landing day back in 2021,” tweeted the Perseverance rover team on June 15. In the image clicked by the rover’s left Mastcam-Z camera on June 13, a piece of foil with dots across it is clearly visible.
Andrew Good, a NASA JPL (Jet Propulsion Laboratory) spokesperson, told CNET that the piece is definitely from a thermal blanket. But Good added that it is not definite which part of the spacecraft it came from. These blankets help regulate temperature during the crucial entry, descent and landing process, which is also known as the “seven minutes of terror.”
The rover’s social media team also tweeted about the people who make these blankets, saying, “Think of them as spacecraft dressmakers. They work with sewing machines and other tools to piece together these unique materials.”
The rover is currently observing an ancient river delta region inside the Jezero Crater on the planet, hoping to find evidence of ancient microbial life on Mars. This makes the spot with a history of water presence a good location to investigate and collect rock samples. NASA plans to return these samples back to Earth so that they can be studied better. The American space agency has partnered with the European Space Agency to form a 16-member Mars Sample Return Campaign Science group, which will build the roadmap for this effort.
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