Every now and then, NASA’s rovers spot things that don’t seem to fit with the usual Martian landscape: Just a few months ago, Curiosity imaged what appeared to be a doorway. A new image from the Perseverance rover is grabbing similar attention for capturing what appears to be a tangle of string.
On July 12, Perseverance’s front-facing hazard avoidance camera imaged a Martian tumbleweed—er, a piece of trash. A NASA spokesperson said in an email that the object must be some debris from the mission, though it’s not yet clear exactly what it is.
In June, a shiny material appeared in one of Perseverance’s photos, wedged between a rock formation. NASA identified the object as being a piece of the rover’s thermal blanket from when it landed on Mars in February 2021.
Mars may have once been habitable billions of years ago, but the dry planet is very likely devoid of life today. But that doesn’t stop speculation about aliens from running wild every time something appears slightly off in a Martian postcard. Perfect ordinary natural phenomenon (or at least, as “ordinary” as anything on Mars can be to our human eyes) can create optical illusions when translated into grainy 2D images. Past examples of supposed oddities on Mars include a hiding squirrel, a spoon, an artificial light, and a human face.
Although the single-serving Martian pasta dish appears to be harmless, it does raise concern over the various missions to Mars littering the planet with debris. NASA and other space agencies decontaminate spacecraft before sending them off on missions to avoid spreading Earthly microbes in space. But landing on another planet is bound to leave pieces of wreckage behind, and there’s really no way for the robot to pick up after itself.