Poor Perseverance! NASA’s Mars rover has lost its pet rock

The Mars rover Perseverance has sadly lost its pet rock. The Martian stone had been hitching a ride on the vehicle for more than half its time on the Red Planet. Recent snapshots, however, show the rock is no longer riding with the rover.

It was spotted by NASA scientists last year, who called it an “unexpected traveling companion”. However, Mars fans have noticed the absence of the rock in recently beamed back images.

A bittersweet image taken on April 18 shows the small passenger missing from the wheel.

Image of the wheel on the Mars rover Perseverance without the rock.
THIS PICTURE: Image of the wheel on the Mars rover Perseverance without the rock. Image snapped April 18, 2023. (Credit: NASA)

Dr. Gwénaël Caravaca, a Martian geologist, tweeted: “We found out in latest Hazcam we have lost our pet rock in the front left wheel of NASA Perseverance. It spent 427 Sols with us (more than an Earth year!), and traveled about 10 km since Sol 341. “Farewell Rock Friend, you will be missed!”

Last June, NASA noted: “In early February— a rock found its way into the rover’s front left wheel, and since hitching a ride, it’s been transported more than 5.3 miles (8.5 km). This rock isn’t doing any damage to the wheel, but throughout its (no doubt bumpy!) journey, it has clung on and made periodic appearances in our left Hazcam images.”

At the time, the space agency pondered where the rock might end its journey, explaining: “It’s possible that the rock may fall out at some point along our future ascent of the crater rim. If it does so, it will land amongst rocks that we expect to be very different from itself.

“As one of our team members quipped this week, “we might confuse a future Mars geologist who finds it out of place!”

They added: “So: if you’re a Martian geologist from the future reading this, maybe a Martian graduate student tasked with mapping the historical site of Jezero crater: take heed. If you’ve found a rock that looks out of place, you might just be looking at the former pet rock of Perseverance!”

What is Perseverance?

The Mars Perseverance rover is a car-sized, nuclear-powered robotic rover designed and built by NASA as part of the Mars 2020 mission. It was launched on July 30, 2020, and successfully landed in the Jezero Crater on Mars on February 18, 2021. The primary objectives of the Perseverance mission are to search for signs of past microbial life, study the planet’s climate and geology, and collect samples for potential future return to Earth.

Perseverance is based on the design of its predecessor, the Mars Science Laboratory’s Curiosity rover, but it carries a different set of scientific instruments and has several upgrades. Some of the key instruments onboard Perseverance include the Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment (MOXIE), which will produce oxygen from Mars’ carbon dioxide atmosphere, and the Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman & Luminescence for Organics & Chemicals (SHERLOC) and the Planetary Instrument for X-ray Lithochemistry (PIXL), which will analyze Martian rocks and soil for signs of past life and habitable conditions.

Illustration of of Perseverance Mars rover.
THIS PICTURE: Illustration of of Perseverance Mars rover. (Credit: NASA)

One of the unique features of the Mars 2020 mission is the inclusion of the Ingenuity helicopter, a small drone-like aircraft that has demonstrated powered flight on another planet for the first time. Ingenuity serves as a technology demonstration to test the feasibility of aerial reconnaissance and exploration on Mars and could pave the way for future aerial missions on other planets.

Overall, the Mars Perseverance rover plays a crucial role in advancing our understanding of Mars’ potential to support life, both in the past and the future, and contributes to the ongoing efforts to prepare for eventual human exploration of the Red Planet.


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