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Mars Sample Tube or Star Wars Lightsaber? NASA Rover Might Be a Jedi

Even the director of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory thinks the Perseverance rover's rock sample tube looks like it belongs in a galaxy far, far away.

Mars sample tube resembles the handle of a Star Wars lightsaber. It's on the Martian ground, which is dusty and pebbly, and in the shadow of the rover.
The Perseverance rover dropped its first sample tube filled with rock on the ground. This should come in handy for battling Darth Vader on Mars some day.
NASA/JPL-Caltech

This story is part of Welcome to Mars, our series exploring the red planet.

NASA's Perseverance rover made history on Mars this week by dropping a tube filled with rock onto the surface of the red planet, the first step in building the "first sample depot on another world." It's a momentous occasion, so why is everybody cracking Star Wars jokes?

Images of the tube on the ground make it look an awful lot like the handle to a Star Wars lightsaber. It helps that dusty and pebbly Mars could be a stand-in for famously sandy Star Wars planet Tatooine.

Mark Hamill, the actor behind Luke Skywalker, has been getting tagged quite a bit on Twitter but hasn't commented on the tube. Planetary scientist Paul Byrne helpfully added a glowing green lightsaber blade to one of the rover's images, tweeting, "Hey, Mark Hamill, I think you dropped something."

Not to ruin the illusion, but the tough titanium tube is actually fairly small. The white part of the tube measures in at less than 6 inches (15.2 centimeters), and it contains a sample that's a little thicker than a pencil. 

Even the director of the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which developed and operates the rover, got in on the sci-fi fun. "Lots of people saying the Mars Sample Tube looks like a lightsaber," Laurie Leshin tweeted. "I've been holding out my hand to my computer screen to see if it will be transported from Mars, since as Director of NASA JPL I'm pretty sure the Force is with me (right?). No joy so far but I'll keep trying!"

The tube is the first in a series that Percy will drop across a flat section of the Jezero Crater. The tubes are part of the Mars Sample Return, or MSR, mission, which is still under development. MSR is a complex endeavor that'll involve picking up Percy's samples from Mars and bringing them back to Earth for close study. 

NASA hopes the rover will be able to greet the MSR lander when it gets there some day in the future. In case that doesn't work out, the samples dropped on the ground will be a backup. MSR will include a couple of small helicopters designed to go fetch the tubes if needed.

Star Wars fans aren't the only ones seeing a sign of their beloved sci-fi franchise on Mars. Doctor Who fans think the sample tube looks like a sonic screwdriver, the Doctor's iconic multipurpose tool. 

The tube is just the first of a planned 10 drops spread out across a wide enough area for the helicopters to safely operate. That means there'll be a whole lot of lightsaber lookalikes hanging around on the red planet. Hey, Disney, how about a new series? Star Wars: Mars.