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On Mars, Perseverance has found an unexpected companion!

Perseverance is currently separated from Ingenuity, his lifelong sidekick, but he’s found a Pet Rock to keep him company.

Fascinating as they are, the crimson deserts of Mars aren’t bustling with activity; when not moving or surveying the surrounding terrain, rovers like Curiosity or Perseverance have to find the time long.

Admittedly, the latter can count on his lifelong sidekick, the Ingenuity helicopter. But right now, this brave little machine is temporarily grounded following a failure of its inclinometer (see our article). Perseverance is therefore deprived of its own deliverance in its exploration of the Jezero crater delta… or almost; NASA has just revealed that he is currently traveling with an unexpected companion hitchhiked!

Perseverance has a pebble in its shoe

On the other hand, it is not a question of a small green man who would have hidden there to taunt this hunter of extraterrestrial life… but rather of a pebble which lodged in his shoe – or rather in his left front wheel. .

This is a situation that can quickly become problematic, as evidenced by an episode that occurred on December 29, 2021. Some gravel had managed to make its way into the chassis of Perseverance. They then threatened to damage part of the tools used to take samples.

However, the nearest robot hospital was on Earth, about 200 million kilometers away. The rover was therefore forced to operate on itself; he had to disassemble his own arm to identify the problem (see NASA’s article). An anecdote that would almost recall the story of Leonid Rogozovthis Russian doctor who had to perform an appendectomy on himself for lack of another doctor on the Antarctic base where he resided.

A rock hitchhiker has boarded Perseverance! © Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

A real road movie martien

To avoid these kinds of accidents, the wheels are specifically designed to allow sand and minerals to pass through to prevent them from getting stuck. But that didn’t stop this pebble from settling in nicely – and hasn’t budged since! Fortunately, this small piece of rock proved to be much less problematic than the previous ones and poses no risk to Perseverance’s equipment.

The stone therefore found itself propelled to the rank of protagonist of a one-of-a-kind remake of the big mop; it has been going on for four months already and has allowed him to cover 8.5 kilometres. And in that time interval, the new Pet Rock assigned to the robot was in the front row to witness certain important stages of the mission.

During this realroad buddy movie” as Americans rave about it, he could enjoy the supposedly volcanic rocks of the Máaz Formation, observe the spectacular rock formations of Kodiak Point, or even become aware of the vastness of the delta as Perseverance approached the edge from the crater.

The delta front on the outskirts of Jezero Crater, where NASA hopes to find traces of past life. © NASA/JPL-Caltech

The hitchhiker will have to fasten his seatbelt

It now remains to be seen what will become of this unexpected companion. It is unfortunately unlikely that he will keep Perseverance company until the end of his journey. Indeed, the rover will soon attack the ascent of the steep sides of the delta which borders the crater from Jezero; an area that forms the main objective of its mission and where NASA hopes to find traces of past life.

Because of the significant inclination, there is a good chance that his passenger will find himself ejected at the end of the first left turn… This will mark the end of a mini-series that is certainly completely anecdotal, but still very entertaining. The rock will then find itself at the foot of the slope, right in the middle of other minerals whose composition and structure will surely be very different… enough to leave future Martian explorers perplexed. A prospect that greatly amuses NASA.

If you’re a Martian geologist reading this in the future, beware: if you find a rock that doesn’t look out of place, it might just be Perseverance’s old Pet Rock!

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