NASA’s Perseverance rover usually radiates evocative images of gloomy dusty landscapes, reddish sandstorms and rock samples from March. So operators were surprised to receive a picture on Monday of a shiny silver object that looked like a discarded sharp packet of kilts between two rocks.
The object, the Nasa team concluded, is a piece of debris that was discarded by the robotic vessel during the landing in February 2021.
“My team has discovered something unexpected: It’s part of a thermal blanket that they think may have come from my descent stage, the rocket-propelled jet package that put me down on landing day back in 2021,” Perseverance Twitter account reported.
“The shiny piece of foil is part of a thermal blanket – a material used to control temperatures. It’s a surprise to find this here: My descent stage crashed about 2 km away. Landed this piece here after that, or was it blown here by the wind? »
The picture has raised concerns that space exploration risks polluting the pristine environments of March and the moon. The 1967 outer space treaty created an obligation under international law to avoid harmful pollution of space, the moon and other celestial bodies, but some argue that the law is not detailed enough to ensure protection.
In the case of the Perseverance litter, however, Prof Andrew Coates, a space scientist at UCL’s Mullard Space Science Laboratory, said: “The good news is that everything is sterilized before it goes to Mars, and the space radiation environment helps during the nine-month trip to Mars and the tough the surface environment. »
“Because it is so difficult to land on Mars due to the thin atmosphere, landers always have associated landing system hardware that also lands on the surface – parachutes, back shells and landing systems – such as the endurance and curiosity crane, airbags and retro missile systems for previous missions. , “he added.” These ‘fly into the sunset’ from the landing site and eventually crash, but the risk of pollution is very low. “
Avoiding pollution is crucial for missions like Perseverance, which hunts for signs of ancient life in Mars’ Jezero crater. Scientists believe that more than 3.5 billion years ago, the area was flooded with water and was home to an ancient river delta. It is possible that microbial life could have survived in the Jezero during this wetter period, and therefore the car-sized rover collects soil samples to return to Earth that scientists can assess for signs of ancient life.