Star Wars fans thought they’d found proof that there was another Jedi out there, after spotting a ‘lightsaber’ on Mars in a new picture released by NASA.
The image in question shows a thin metal tube with a thick end, which could be a handle, and a thinner side, where the concentrated energy beam could erupt from – in theory.
It’s even big enough to house a Kyber crystal, so we can see where the Star Wars fans are coming from – but the space agency insits the image isn’t anything from science fiction.
In a statement, it has been confirmed the item is a container dropped by the Perseverance Rover – and it contains rocks that will be sent back to Earth. But they would say that, wouldn’t they…
Despite its suspicious appearance, NASA insist the mysterious article is actually a titanium tube containing a rock sample resting on the Red Planet’s surface.
Last Wednesday, the US space agency’s Perseverance Rover placed the tube there, ready for it to be taken back to Earth on a small spacecraft.
NASA is now planning a future mission to retrieve the samples collected by the rover, bringing the first pieces of Mars back to Earth.
This lightsaber-like sample tube is set to form a “depot of tubes” that would be considered for a journey back to Earth by the Mars Sample Return campaign.
The first tube to drop contained samples of a chalk-size core of igneous rock informally named “Malay”, which was collected on January 31, 2022, in a region of Mars’ Jezero Crater called “South Séítah”.
Over the next two months, Perseverance will deposit a total of ten tubes at this location, referred to as “Three Forks”, marking a historic step as humanity builds its first sample depot on another planet.
However, the rover has also been collecting duplicate samples from rock targets the mission selects. It currently has 17 other samples (including one atmospheric sample) taken so far in its belly.
In a blog post, NASA noted that “based on the architecture of the Mars Sample Return campaign, the rover would deliver samples to a future robotic lander”.
This lander would, in turn, use a robotic arm to place the samples in a containment capsule aboard a small rocket that would blast off to Mars orbit, where another spacecraft would capture the sample container and return it safely to Earth.
Should Perseverance fail to deliver its samples, the depot will serve as a backup supply for the Return campaign, at which time NASA will deploy a pair of Sample Recovery Helicopters to finish the job.
In the coming weeks, scientists have other opportunities to check Perseverance’s progress in making more sample deposits at the Three Forks cache.
Rick Welch, Perseverance’s deputy project manager at JPL, said: “Seeing our first sample on the ground is a great capstone to our prime mission period, which ends on January 6. It’s a nice alignment that, just as we’re starting our cache, we’re also closing this first chapter of the mission.”