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Humans are yet to land on Mars but we've dumped over 7,000 kg of trash on it

Today, the main concern scientists have about trash on Mars is the risk it poses to current and future missions.

September 26, 2022 / 05:46 PM IST
This bundle of debris was first spotted July 12 by the rover's front left hazard avoidance camera -- but when Perseverance returned to the same spot four days later, it was gone.

This bundle of debris was first spotted July 12 by the rover's front left hazard avoidance camera -- but when Perseverance returned to the same spot four days later, it was gone.

It has been more than 50 years that people have been exploring the surface of Mars and after 14 missions, while humans are yet to set foot on the Red Planet, 18 human-made objects have landed on it and left debris worth over 7,000 kg.

In mid-August 2022, NASA confirmed that the Mars rover Perseverance had spotted a piece of trash jettisoned during its landing, this time a tangled mess of netting. And this is not the first time scientists have found trash on Mars. That’s because there is a lot there.

But where does the debris come from? It comes from three main sources: discarded hardware, inactive spacecraft and crashed spacecraft.

Every mission to the Martian surface requires a module that protects the spacecraft. This module includes a heat shield for when the craft passes through the planet’s atmosphere and a parachute and landing hardware so that it can land softly.

The craft discards pieces of the module as it descends, and these pieces can land in different locations on the planet’s surface – there may be a lower heat shield in one place and a parachute in another. When this debris crashes to the ground, it can break into smaller pieces, as happened during the Perseverance rover landing in 2021. These small pieces can then get blown around because of Martian winds.

A lot of small, windblown trash has been found over the years – like the netting material found recently. Earlier in the year, on June 13, 2022, Perseverance rover spotted a large, shiny thermal blanket wedged in some rocks 2 km from where the rover landed. Both Curiosity in 2012 and Opportunity in 2005 also came across debris from their landing vehicles.

Read more: The race to make oxygen on the surface of Mars has begun

The nine inactive spacecraft on the surface of Mars make up the next type of debris. These craft are the Mars 3 lander, Mars 6 lander, Viking 1 lander, Viking 2 lander, the Sojourner rover, the formerly lost Beagle 2 lander, the Phoenix lander, the Spirit rover and the most recently deceased spacecraft, the Opportunity rover. Mostly intact, these might be better considered historical relics than trash.

Crashed spacecraft and their pieces are another significant source of trash. At least two spacecraft have crashed, and an additional four have lost contact before or just after landing.

Today, the main concern scientists have about trash on Mars is the risk it poses to current and future missions. The Perseverance teams are documenting all debris they find and checking to see if any of it could contaminate the samples the rover is collecting. NASA engineers have also considered whether Perseverance could get tangled in debris from the landing but have concluded the risk is low.

(With inputs from AP)

Read more: These countries are polluting space the most, shows data. How does India rank
first published: Sep 26, 2022 04:17 pm