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NASA's Ingenuity Mars Helicopter Had Mystery Debris Stuck to Its Leg

How did that get there? Images from the craft's most recent flight show something flapping in the thin Martian air.

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Ingenuity’s navigation camera (NavCam) caught the debris, which can be seen in the bottom right of this image.
Gif: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter just completed its 33rd flight on Mars, and this one featured an unexpected twist: unidentified debris stuck to one of its lander legs.

Ingenuity’s navigation camera, or NavCam, captured images of the hitchhiker during the aerial jaunt on September 24, NASA wrote in a status update. Images show the helicopter taking off with the debris dangling from one of its legs, much like a piece of toilet paper stuck to a shoe. As Ingenuity moves through the air, the debris detaches from the lander leg and floats off into the distance.

NASA noted that the debris was not present in NavCam images from Ingenuity’s previous flight, and that all data from the helicopter’s instruments are nominal—meaning the debris is likely not from Ingenuity itself. While it certainly looks like plastic, NASA says that the Ingenuity team is working on identifying what exactly it is and where it came from. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab did not immediately reply to Gizmodo’s request for more information.

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During flight number 33—and it’s amazing to write that, given that the original mission called for just five test flights—Ingenuity was supposed to be in the air for just under a minute, reaching an altitude of 33 feet (10 meters) and traversing about 365 feet (111 meters).

This is not the first time we’ve spotted debris on Mars. In July, the Perseverance rover imaged what looked like a wad of Martian spaghetti, and in April, Ingenuity got a photo of the crumpled mess of landing gear that helped Perseverance touch down on Mars, which is now a part of the planet’s dusty landscape for the foreseeable future.