NASA’s Perseverance rover has a strange and unexpected travel companion

NASA’s Perseverance rover is on one of the most critical missions the space agency has ever had on the Red Planet. Tasked with finding evidence of ancient life in a part of the planet believed to be an ancient river delta, the rover has discovered a number of intriguing things. Now, though, it also seems to have picked up an unexpected traveling companion. Perseverance has a pet rock.

NASA’s Perseverance rover picked up a pet rock

Perseverance’s pet rock is lodged in the rover’s front left wheel. Image source: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA shared the good news last week, noting that Perseverance’s pet rock has stuck with the rover for over 100 sols. The space agency says the rock hitched a ride in the rover’s front left wheel in early February. Since then, it has traveled over 5.3 miles with the agency’s latest rover.

It’s a bit of a silly announcement. But, when you’re exploring alien planets like Mars, every little thing can be intriguing in its own right. Additionally, Perseverance picking up an unlikely traveling companion isn’t so unlikely. The Martian surface is littered with rocks and obstacles. And in the past, other rovers have picked up traveling companions. As such, it was only a matter of time for Perseverance.

Fortunately, Perseverance’s pet rock isn’t causing any damage to the rover’s wheel. It has been along for a bumpy ride, though. The rover has steadily been making its way up towards an ancient river delta.

Once there, it intends to search the delta for signs of ancient life. Since its landing, Perseverance has explored parts of the Jezero crater. Other rovers have also found evidence of the building blocks of life on Mars.

NASA hopes that Perseverance can find even more evidence.

Future confusion

A photo captured by the Mars Perseverance rover. Image source: NASA/JPL-Caltech

While the rock hitching a ride in Perseverance’s wheel isn’t much of a threat to the rover, scientists say there could be future implications.

When Perseverance picked up its pet rock, the rover was still exploring the floor of the Jezero crater. Now, over 100 sols later, the rover is well on its way to the Jezero delta. Should it fall out anytime soon, NASA expects it to land with rocks that are made up of very different components than it is.

5.3 miles doesn’t sound that far, right? But, for a small rock, it’s a world away from where it was picked up. And that’s where those future implications come into play.

As NASA notes in the announcement, the rock could very well fall in a place it doesn’t fit in. If that happens, it could confuse future Mars geologists. This is why the space agency issued a somewhat silly warning after announcing Perseverance’s pet rock.

If you’re studying Mars down the line and you’re mapping out the Jezero crater, you might find a small rock that seems well out of place. Sadly, it’s unlikely an alien put it there. Instead, it probably hitched a ride on Perseverance. If only that rock could talk, it could tell us so much about the rover’s historical expedition across the Red Planet.

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