Mars rover Perseverance has hitched a ride with a pet rock 5.3 miles across.
Since early February, Perseverance has been riding with a small rock tucked inside its left front wheel. In its journey across the Jezero Crater on Mars, Perseverance has traveled 5.3 miles (8.6 kilometers) so far.
Eleni Ravanis, a student collaborator on NASA’s Perseverance mission from the University of Hawaii at M*noa, wrote in an update that the rock isn’t doing any damage to the wheel, but it has made periodic appearances in our left Hazcam images during its (no doubt bumpy!) travel.
On February 4, the rover’s 341st day (or sol, as Mars days are called) on Mars, Perseverance has gathered a small Mars rock. Perseverance was investigating the ancient lava flow known as “Máaz” at the time.
From that point onward, Perseverance has carried the rock north across the famed late science fiction writer Octavia E. Butler’s landing site, and west across the ruins of a former delta at Jezero known as “Kodiak.” Ravanis wrote that the rover may have drill into its first sedimentary Mars rock as part of NASA’s Delta Front Campaign.
The pet rock of perseverance has now been removed from its habitat, Ravanis wrote. “As we ascend the crater rim, it is possible that the rock will fall out. However, we expect the rock to land among rocks that are very different from itself”.
Ravanis says Martian geologists might be confused to find the rock so out of place if that happens.
NASA‘s Mars rovers are no strangers to hitchhiking rocks. During Spirit’s 2004 mission, a ‘potato-sized’ rock was caught inside the rover’s right rear wheel, which needed to be dislodged. Another rover still running on Mars, the older Curiosity, is picking up rocks in its own battered wheels from time to time as it continues its mission in the Gale Crater.
Ravanis wrote that the rocks tended to hop off after a few weeks, although it isn’t known how long they stayed. It is therefore on its way to setting new hitchhiking records on Mars with perseverance’s current companion!