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 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.
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 away. Did this piece land here after that, or was it blown here by the wind? pic.twitter.com/uVx3VdYfi8June 15, 2022
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.
Mike Wall is the author of "Out There" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or on Facebook.
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Michael Wall is a Senior Space Writer with Space.com and joined the team in 2010. He primarily covers exoplanets, spaceflight and military space, but has been known to dabble in the space art beat. His book about the search for alien life, "Out There," was published on Nov. 13, 2018. Before becoming a science writer, Michael worked as a herpetologist and wildlife biologist. He has a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology from the University of Sydney, Australia, a bachelor's degree from the University of Arizona, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. To find out what his latest project is, you can follow Michael on Twitter.