The material is not extraterrestrial originbiological or otherwise, but rather a piece of Dacron netting from the EDL (Entry, Descent, and Landing Gear) that landed the rover on the Martian surface in February 2021. Dacron is a type of resin-embedded synthetic fiber that is often used in performance sailcloth, but in Perseverance’s case it was probably part of a thermal protection blanket, according to a NASA blog.
“This particular piece of web appears to have undergone significant crumbling/crumbling, suggesting it was subjected to large forces,” the blog noted.
The net is not the first piece of debris left over from the Perseverance rover landing that later appeared in the rover’s path.
In June, Perseverance detected a piece of shiny sheet-like material, likely part of a thermal blanket at the EDL, trapped in a rock outcrop. And in April, the Ingenuity helicopter that landed on Mars along with the Perseverance rover took images of the protective shell and parachute left over from the EDL that carried it and Perseverance safely to the surface of the Red Planet.
The variety of landing gear debris is an unavoidable consequence of making a soft landing on Mars, but it can present a challenge for the Perseverance mission team.
Perseverance is tasked with drilling rock and soil samples from the Martian surface, samples to be collected and returned to Earth in the 2030s for analysis that could definitively answer, once and for all, whether Mars ever had, or if it still harbors, native life forms.
Although NASA took care of sterilize Perseverance Before launch to prevent contamination of Mars with terrestrial microbes, the rover team will need to use the rover’s cameras to try to ensure that no EDL material reaches any of the samples drilled by the rover.
“Sampling teams will also continue to monitor for possible sources of contamination to ensure the integrity of the samples,” the blog noted.