Snapshot: Perseverance rover caught littering on Mars

NASA's newest mission to the Red Planet has stumbled upon an abundance of debris left over from its landing.
By | Published: August 5, 2022 | Last updated on May 18, 2023
Perseverance captured this image of the stringlike debris on July 11, 2022.

Perseverance spotted something unexpected while traversing Mars on July 11 (sol 495): a bundle of string. 

According to NASA, the stringlike material is most likely a remnant of the rover’s entry, descent, and landing (EDL) hardware, which the mission discarded on the surface. Specifically, the team believes it to be a piece of Dacron netting that was shredded off the rover’s thermal blanket. However, before they could take a closer look, the string had blown away.

By July 15, 2022 (Sol 498), the debris had disappeared, almost certainly blown away by Mars feeble winds.

This isn’t the first time that Perseverance has stumbled upon debris from its landing. On April 16 (sol 411), the rover first spotted an unusually bright material tucked into the hillsides of Hogwallow Flats. When Perseverance entered the region a few weeks later, a high-resolution image allowed the science team to identify the material as a piece of multi-layer insulation, likely from Perseverance’s skycrane.

The thermal blanket material was snagged on a rock and could even be seen flapping a breeze. The source of the insulation was Perseverance’s skycrane, which flew away after setting Perseverance down, crash landing at a safe distance from the rover.

Researchers were surprised to find the thermal blanket material so far away from the skycrane’s crash site, which was 1.2 miles (2 kilometers) to the southeast. While it’s possible that the debris was ejected from the region during the crash, the team thinks it’s more likely that martian winds simply blew the material across the surface.

A snakeskin-like piece of debris was located on martian sol 474.

More pieces of debris were spotted in other images of Hogwallow Flats over the next few months. On sol 474 (June 20), NAVcam images revealed one piece of strangely shaped debris moving from one location to another over a week-long period. A few sols later, researchers identified the piece to be some Dacron netting material.

Ingenuity, which accompanied Perseverance to the Red Planet, also previously spotted the crash site for the parachute and backshell.

NASA is taking care to catalog each piece of litter they come across, assessing the risks it poses to both the rover and its mission. So far, the risk has been deemed low. But, according to a NASA blogpost, it appears that Hogwallow Flats may be “a natural collecting point for windblown EDL debris.” In other words, it’s probable that Perseverance will encounter even more litter while it traverses the region.