Roaming Mars has been a lonely existence for NASA’s Perseverance, but the exploratory rover now has a traveling companion: a hitchhiking “pet rock” that got stuck in one of its wheels.
Luckily, the Martian Stone won’t impact the rover’s science mission and is only a minor inconvenience, like getting a pebble stuck in your shoe.
Perseverance’s front left wheel accidentally picked up the companion stone on Feb. 4, or Sol 341 — the 341st Martian day of the Martian year, according to a NASA statement.
The rock periodically has photobombed images taken by the rover’s left front hazard avoidance camera (Hazcam).
Recent footage shows the boulder continuing to collapse with Perseverance 126 days (123 sols) after hitchhiking for the first time. (A sol, or Martian day, is only 37 minutes longer than an Earth day.)
The Rock hitchhiked with Perseverance for just over a quarter of the rover’s mission to the Red Planet. When the boulder first settled into the Wheel of Perseverance, the rover was exploring the Máaz Formation, a section of Jezero Crater that researchers suspect to be made up of ancient lava flows.
Since then, the rover has traveled 8.5 kilometers through the Octavia E. Butler landing site, where Perseverance first landed on Mars in February 2021, and past the remnants of the Kodiak Delta, which connected once an ancient river and lake. .
The rover will soon prepare for an ascent of one of Jezero Crater’s steep slopes, which may dislodge its stony stowaway.
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When the companion stone finally falls from the rover’s wheel, it will likely be surrounded by rocks very different from itself as it is likely volcanic in origin.
“We might confuse a future Mars geologist who finds it out of place,” a mission scientist joked at a recent meeting, according to the statement.
Perseverance, or Percy, picked up several other small rocks in his right front wheel during his mission, but these all fell out within a few days or weeks.
This makes the newest stony passenger a Martian hitchhiking record, according to the statement.
But Percy isn’t the only Mars rover to pick up a pet stone.
In December 2004, operators of NASA’s Spirit rover – which roamed Mars between January 2004 and March 2010 – had to perform a sharp turn maneuver to shake a “potato-sized” rock from its wheel rear right because scientists feared it would cause significant damage. damage, according to NASA.
Previously, picking up unwanted rocks in other parts of the rover was a much bigger problem for Perseverance.
On December 29, a pile of small rocks fell into part of the rover’s machinery, causing Percy to shut down for nearly a week. Mission scientists eventually found a way to remove the pebbles after forcing the rover to detach its drill arm to properly photograph the affected area.
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This article was originally published by Live Science. Read the original article here.