The Mars rover accidentally adopted a pet rock

Life for Perseverance, the brave rover currently roaming the Red Planet some 132 million miles from Earth, feels very lonely. From the desolate and dusty landscapes of Jezero Crater to the gale-force winds of Mars, life on Mars is not for the faint of heart — or at least for those introverted. Thus, despite being a robot on a science research mission, researchers on NASA’s Perseverance mission team were recently surprised to discover that Perseverance had mistakenly adopted a pet rock.

It’s unclear whether the perseverance chose the boulder or the boulder chose perseverance, but scientists say the boulder found itself a comfortable spot on the rover’s front left wheel, at which point it began to cling to it. According to a NASA press release about the rock, the rock has been around since early February and has traveled more than 5.3 miles around Mars; Perseverance itself has traveled a total distance of 7.3 miles since it landed on Mars in February 2021. Thankfully, the rock didn’t do any damage to Perseverance, although it certainly lives up to its owner as it stuck to the rover afterward. Many miles.

A rock stuck in the probe’s shoe (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

This isn’t the first time a rover has adopted a rock—or rather, opted for a rover’s rock. For nearly 18 years, a rock the size of a potato was attached to the right wheel of the Spirit rover that had been on Mars from 2004 to 2010. Mission operators eventually had to eject the intruder remotely. The Curiosity rover, which landed on Mars in 2012, saw rocks periodically resting on its front right wheel. However, scientists say these types of relationships usually only last for a few weeks – not months.

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Since landing on Mars in February 2021, Perseverance has made an impressive list of early adopters. For example, the rover’s joint mission was the first time a helicopter had flown to another planet. Perseverance has also been able to extract oxygen from the red planet’s atmosphere for carbon dioxide, a method that could one day be used to provide oxygen to astronauts on Mars. And perhaps most importantly, Perseverance succeeded in collecting and storing soil and rock samples that would eventually become the first Martian rocks to return to Earth for scientific study. She also now has the longest pet rock of any roving vehicle – nearly four months and counting. Is there anything perseverance cannot do?

In other persistence news, a research paper in Science Advances details the persistence observations of hundreds of dust devils and their famous video of wind gusts as they lift up a massive Martian dust cloud. Scientists say perseverance observations of these atmospheric phenomena, made during the first 216 days on Mars of her adventure, could help predict future Mars dust storms.

Related: The strange geology of Mars bothers scientists

“Jezero Crater may be in one of the most active sources of dust on the planet,” Manuel de la Torre Juarez, deputy principal investigator at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said in a press release. “Everything new we learn about dust will be useful for future missions.”

The study authors discovered that as many as four whirlwinds go through perseverance on a typical Martian day—making a rocker-friend’s resilience to perseverance even more remarkable and impressive.

Is the end of the rock’s journey looming? Scientists believe that the rock may fall during the future ascent of the crater rim due to gravity. And if that happens, you will land in an area with very different rocks from it. As Eleni Ravanis, a student collaborator at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, explained in a press release about the rock, a future Martian geologist will be baffled by the location of the rock.

“So: If you’re a Martian geologist from the future reading this, a graduate student from Mars might be tasked with mapping the historic site of Jezero Crater: Watch out,” Ravanis wrote. “If you find a rock that looks out of place, you might just look at the previous pet perseverance rock.”

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