There’s some good news coming from Mars, and some weird news as well. First, the good news: NASA’s Perseverance rover successfully collected its 12th core sample and preserved a small portion of the Red Planet in a tube for safekeeping. And strange news: the rover team noticed some mysterious objects stuck on the sample system.
As part of its subsequent sampling procedure, the rover took close-up photos of some sampling system components. Art Thompson, project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, wrote in a recent rover update: “On these images, two small pieces of debris can be seen – a small object on the core bit (stored in the turntable) and a thin line on the drill chuck.” The thin line is easily seen in the August 4th image, it looks like a loose thin line, like from a shirt button Unravel something.
Percy’s team is now working to sort out the source of the debris, and whether it may have come from the rover, or if it’s a leftover from the entry, descent and landing (EDL) system that delivered the rover to Mars in early 2021.
There was a debris issue with the drill carousel in late 2021 when some small pebbles prevented the storage of samples. The team was able to remove these small rocks and keep the rover in orbit through its vital sampling effort. NASA hopes to bring this collected debris back to Earth with an ambitious return mission, still in development, that will include sending several new helicopters to Mars.
Perseverance is exploring an ancient river delta region in Jezero Crater. The samples collected there help scientists understand whether microbes exist on Mars.
While investigating the mesh debris, the Perseverance team expressed some concern about potential contamination of the sample tubes. The rover took more images of the equipment from different angles and took a closer look at the surrounding ground where the samples were taken. More imaging and other diagnostic activities are likely to take place in the near future as NASA tries to understand the nature of the debris, Thompson said.