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NASA Explains That Weird Spaghetti-Like Object on Mars

Nothing but net.

A tangled, string-like object sits on the sandy brown Martian ground with a rock nearby.
This tangled mess of something is likely debris left over from Perseverance's arrival on Mars.
NASA/JPL-Caltech

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

Last month, I had a blast investigating a tangle of something strange spotted by the Perseverance rover on Mars. It looked a bit like spaghetti or some sort of string. NASA JPL imaging scientist Justin Maki has now chimed in on what the object might be and how it got there. I was on the right track with thinking it was a bit of debris from the rover's landing system.

The mysterious object appeared in a rover camera image on July 12, but a later image from July 16 showed it had disappeared from its spot on the sandy ground. 

Perseverance had a dramatic arrival in the Jezero Crater in February 2021. The EDL system -- for entry, descent and landing -- set it down carefully on the surface and then scampered off to crash in a safe place where it wouldn't damage the rover. EDL, as expected, had a hard landing, scattering debris across a wide area

Some of those debris pieces have been photobombing the rover's images, with NASA saying the operations team has logged about a half dozen bits of suspected debris in an area called Hogwallow Flats. This is in a fascinating river delta region where the rover is collecting rock samples. Notably, Percy spotted a shiny foil piece in June that turned out to be from a thermal blanket from the EDL.

As for the string-like object, NASA said it's likely a piece of shredded Dacron netting. The material -- a type of polyester fiber -- is used in thermal blankets that help to regulate equipment temperatures during the hot and spicy process of landing on Mars. The team said it found "this particular piece of netting appears to have undergone significant unraveling/shredding, suggesting that it was subjected to strong forces."

What's impressive is how far some of the debris has traveled. The EDL crashed about 1.24 miles (2 kilometers) away from where the rover is exploring. NASA suggested the crash might have spread material into the air, but wind is the more likely culprit in carrying the debris over that distance. 

Mars is notoriously windy and the disappearance of the noodle-ish object indicates it's lightweight enough to get pushed around by the blustery breezes in the crater.

The piece of shredded Dacron netting appeared to have been blown away by the wind in these before and after views from July 2022.

NASA/JPL-Caltech; red circle by Amanda Kooser/CNET

As fun as it is to see unexpected objects intruding onto the Martian landscape in the rover's images, there are some low-key concerns about the debris that's collecting in Hogwallow Flats. "Perseverance team members are reviewing images of the debris, checking to see if the material may pose as a potential contamination source for the sample tubes from this area," NASA said. 

So far, NASA isn't worried. The rover team is keeping an eye on debris sightings and looking to make sure none of it gets tangled up in the rover itself. 

There might not be any noodles on Mars (yet), but at least we can keep playing a rousing game of spot-the-debris as Percy continues to explore Hogwallow Flats.