Human trash discovered on Mars — but NASA’s explanation leaves unanswered questions

NASA photo

A piece of human trash has been found on Mars and as embarrassing as that sounds, at least it’s not a cigarette butt.

NASA’s Perseverance Mars Rover announced the “surprise” find Wednesday, June 15, and shared photos showing what appears to be a square of aluminum foil snagged between rocks.

Scientists believe they know what it is, but they’re still debating how it got there.

“My team has spotted something unexpected. It’s a piece of a thermal blanket that they think may have come from my descent stage, the rocket-powered jet pack that set me down on landing day last year,” NASA wrote on Facebook.

“It’s a surprise finding this here because my descent stage crashed about 2 km (1.2 miles) away. Did this piece land here after that, or was it blown here by the wind?”

If NASA was hoping for theories, they definitely asked the wrong crowd.

Commenters on social media are mostly horrified that humans are polluting a planet we’ve never visited in the flesh. Some chastised the agency for being sloppy, while a few pranksters claimed they spotted NASA trash in other Mars photos, including a Big Gulp cup from 7-Eleven.

“NASA’s Perseverance Mars Rover — please tidy up after yourself. I hope you are going to pick up your mess,” Christopher Hughes wrote on the agency’s Facebook page.

“How to pollute without physically (being) in a place: that’s another level,” Michela Gusmini posted.

“I guess it will not be long until we start seeing soda bottles, discarded fast food packaging and plastic litter on Mars. Maybe we need to send a robot with a broom to start tidying up already,” Michael Harris said.

Some among the commenters came to NASA’s defense, noting it might cost millions in tax dollars to pick up our trash on Mars.

“Just because humans don’t like scraps and debris, doesn’t mean the Martians hate it too. We know nothing about them. They could eat pollution for all we know,” David Savage wrote on Facebook.

It’s not clear if NASA knew a piece of thermal blanketing had fallen off during descent. The reflective material is created by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and wrapped around the space craft to regulate temperature, the agency says.

The Perseverance Rover landed on Mars in February 2021 to “seek signs of ancient life and collect samples of ... broken rock and soil ... for possible return to Earth.”

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