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'Unexpected': NASA Mars Rover Finds Shiny Foil Piece on a Rock

NASA isn't sure how the bit of a thermal blanket traveled so far across Mars.

A light-colored piece of thermal blanket is wedged into a rock on Mars.
A bit of Percy's landing system ended up in the river delta region of Mars. The light-colored object with tiny dots is part of a thermal blanket.
NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU

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

Remember that Sesame Street song One of These Things (Is Not Like the Others)? NASA's Perseverance rover spotted something that was not like the others on Mars. On June 13, Percy snapped a photo of a rock that had a strange-looking object stuck on it. 

The object is a piece of foil with dots visible all across it. "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," the rover team tweeted on Wednesday.

NASA JPL spokesperson Andrew Good told CNET the piece is definitely from a thermal blanket. "Less definite is which part of the spacecraft it came from – the team thinks the descent stage is a good possibility – or how exactly it got here (descent stage crashed two kilometers away; whether it landed here after that crash or was blown by the wind isn't something we know)," Good said in an email.

A closer look at the piece of foil shows the regular dots across its surface.

NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU

The rover managed to capture the demise of the descent stage after landing on Mars in February 2021. The descent equipment was designed to deliver the rover to the surface and then scoot away to protect the vehicle and its landing site. The crash created a visible smoke plume in the distance.

The blankets helped to regulate temperatures during the dramatic entry, descent and landing process, which is also known as the "seven minutes of terror." 

Percy's social media handlers highlighted the people who make the thermal blankets, saying, "Think of them as spacecraft dressmakers. They work with sewing machines and other tools to piece together these unique materials." An image shows samples of the blanket materials, including ones with dots that match the piece seen on Mars.

Percy is checking out an ancient river delta region inside the Jezero Crater. The rover team is hoping to find evidence of ancient microbial life on Mars, so a spot with a history of water is a prime place to investigate and collect rock samples that will hopefully be returned to Earth for study.  

The delta has already proven to be incredibly scenic, as this stunner of a landscape shows. The foil finding adds a layer of intrigue to the rover's explorations. How it got there is a mystery that might be left for future space archeologists to solve when they visit Mars some day.