NASA sees ‘otherworldly’ wreckage on Mars with Ingenuity helicopter

The object looks like a flying saucer that crashed on Mars.

And it is indeed the case.

But it does not belong to the extraterrestrials.

Instead, the wreckage is the work of NASA, a component called a backshell that broke off when the Perseverance rover landed on the Red Planet’s surface in February 2021.

“There’s definitely a science fiction element to it,” Ian Clark, an engineer who worked on Perseverance’s parachute system, said of the photographs released Wednesday. “It breathes the other world, doesn’t it?”

On its 26th flight last week, Ingenuity took 10 photos during its 159 seconds in the air covering 1,181 feet. These show that back shell, or top half of the landing pod that protected Perseverance and Ingenuity as they plummeted through the Martian atmosphere. The 70-foot-wide parachute that slowed the vehicles’ descent is still attached.

The parachute and rear shell separated from the rover at an altitude of 1.3 miles. A rocket-propelled system called Skycrane carried Perseverance to the surface, while the rear shell and parachute landed over a mile to the northwest.

The rear hull, nearly 15 feet in diameter, hit the ground at about 78 miles per hour, partially breaking apart. Otherwise, everything appears to be in good condition – no obvious signs of charring. The parachute appears to be intact, as are the lines connecting the parachute to the back shell. But engineers have only just begun to scrutinize the new images in detail.

“They say a picture is worth 1,000 words, but it’s also worth an endless amount of technical knowledge,” Clark said.

Studying the remains of the back shell could prove useful for NASA’s next big Mars adventure – bringing rocks and soil from Mars back to Earth for more detailed study. This mission, called Mars Sample Return, will have to place two landers on the surface – a rover to collect rock samples drilled by Perseverance, and a small rocket to launch the samples into orbit for another spacecraft to pick up and bring back. on earth. .

“We use all of our best models, all of our best analytical tools,” Clark said. The images help verify that the models and analysis are working properly, which adds confidence to the models in the future.

Kenneth Farley, the mission’s project scientist, was fascinated not only by the “truly spectacular” images of the material, but also by what the material landed on.

“Remarkably, this wreckage ended up just touching the two rock formations at the bottom of the crater,” Dr Farley said in an email. The two formations, named Seitah and Maaz, are both made up of volcanic rocks. But their composition is very different. Seitah is rich in olivine which was deposited from thick magma, possibly a lava lake. Maaz, which is at the top and therefore probably younger, has a composition similar to most basalt lava flows – full of minerals known as pyroxene and plagioclase but with little or no olivine.

The two formations meet on a line of rocks that runs from the rear hull to an area right next to the parachute. “We want to know how these rocks might relate to each other,” Dr Farley said.

Mission scientists were so intrigued by the geology that Ingenuity made another pass over the boundary line between Seitah and Maaz on Sunday. These images will be sent back to Earth on Thursday.

Perseverance also took care of his journeys. On April 2, he took a series of photos of the small Martian moon Phobos passing in front of the sun, a partial eclipse by the potato-like object. Detailed measurements of Phobos’ orbit give insight into the interior structure of Mars.

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