The detritus is not evidence of litterbug Martians.
Part of a thermal blanket from the landing gear of NASA's Mars rover Perseverance, as photographed by the robot on June 13, 2022.(Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU)
No, this isn't evidence of advanced (but careless) Martian life.
On Monday (June 13), NASA's Perseverance rover snapped a photo of a shiny silver object wedged between two rocks on the floor of the Red Planet's Jezero Crater, which the car-sized robot has been exploring since its February 2021 touchdown.
This space trash is not native to Mars; Perseverance hauled it from Earth, the rover's handlers said.
"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," Perseverance team members wrote via the rover's Twitter account(opens in new tab) today (June 15).
"That shiny bit of foil is part of a thermal blanket — a material used to control temperatures. It’s a surprise finding this here: My descent stage crashed about 2 km [1.2 miles] away. Did this piece land here after that, or was it blown here by the wind?" they added in another tweet, which featured a closeup of the blanket bit.
This isn't the first time we've gotten a look at some of the gear that helped Perseverance hit the red dirt safely. On April 19, NASA's tiny Ingenuity helicopter flew over the rover's backshell and parachute, snapping amazing photos from a variety of angles.
That aerial imagery is helping engineers assess the performance and condition of the backshell and chute, which could inform the design of future Mars missions, NASA officials have said.
Perseverance is hunting for signs of ancient Mars life and collecting samples for future return to Earth. Billions of years ago, Jezero hosted a lake and a river delta and is therefore a great place to do such work, mission team members have said.
The rover has taken plenty of interesting photos that don't include scraps of its own protective gear. Over the weekend, for example, Perseverance snapped a memorable shot from Jezero's delta region that featured a balancing boulder and a rock that looks strikingly like an open-mouthed snake head.