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What’s your string theory for Mars rover’s latest find?

NASA’s Perseverance rover is on a quest to find life on Mars, or at least, evidence of it once existing there.

As it continued to explore the martian surface last week, the roving laboratory stumbled upon what appeared to be a bundle of string. The bizarre discovery was captured by one of Perseverance’s plethora of cameras and beamed back to Earth for scientists to study. The photo so intrigued the public that it topped NASA’s poll for the mission’s Image of the Week.

While it’d be wonderful to be able to conclude that it was left by an alien with a penchant for pasta, the truth appears to be rather more prosaic.

A string-like object discovered by NASA's Mars rover.
A string-like object discovered by NASA’s Mars rover in July 2022. NASA/JPL-Caltech

According to officials at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which is overseeing the current Perseverance Mars mission, the string-like material was probably part of the descent stage or a piece of cord from the parachute that delivered the rover to the martian surface in spectacular fashion last year.

So, nothing to do with extraterrestrials.

But then another odd thing happened. A photo of the same location taken four days later showed that the string had vanished. However, this too can be explained pretty easily, as the winds that whip across Mars seem likely to have blown the object to another location.

This isn’t the first unusual find that Perseverance has made while exploring the martian surface. Last month, for example, the rover came across what’s likely to have been a piece of a thermal blanket that, like the string, came down with Perseverance’s descent stage.

Although it’s exciting to think that Perseverance might one day happen upon some truly bizarre object that’s been on Mars for billions of years, it’s highly unlikely to happen. That’s because the landscape, while fascinating in and of itself, contains only rocks, dust, and sand. And, hopefully, evidence of ancient microbial life …

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