The material is not of alien origin, biological or otherwise, but is instead a piece of tangled Dacron netting from the entry, descent and landing (EDL) gear that landed the rover on the Martian surface in February 2021.
Dacron is a type of synthetic fiber embedded with resin often used in high performance sail cloth, but in the case of Perseverance was likely a part of a thermal protection blanket, according to a Nasa blog.
“This particular piece of netting appears to have undergone significant unraveling/shredding, suggesting that it was subjected to strong forces,” the blog noted.
The netting is not the first piece of debris left over from the Perseverance rover’s landing that has subsequently shown up in the rover’s path.
In June, Perseverance spotted a piece of shiny foil-like materials, likely part of a thermal blanket on the EDL, caught in a rock outcropping. And in April, the Ingenuity helicopter that landed on Mars along with the Perseverance Rover snapped images of the protective shell and parachute left over from the EDL that brought it and Perseverance safely to the Red Planet’s surface.
The assorted landing gear detritus is an inevitable consequence of making a soft landing on Mars, but it can present a challenge for the Perseverance mission team.
Perseverance is charged with drilling rock and soil samples from the Martian surface, samples that will be collected and returned to Earth in the 2030s for analysis that could answer definitively, once and for all, whether Mars ever contained, or even still contains native life forms.
Even though Nasa took care to sterilize Perseverance before launch to prevent contaminating Mars with any Earth microbes, the rover team will need to use the rover’s cameras to try and ensure no materials from the EDL make their way into any of the samples drilled by the rover.
“The sampling teams will also continue to monitor potential sources of contamination to ensure the integrity of the returned sample cache,” the blog noted.