Humans Are Already Littering on Mars

Thomas Smith
Courtesy NASA

Earlier this month, NASA’s Perseverance rover captured a strange image while cruising around the surface of Mars. The image shows what appears to be a coiled piece of string. Some people think that the coil of material looks a lot like spaghetti.

So is this the remains from some alien’s craft project? Are the Martians making a pasta dinner to celebrate the landing of our newest rover?

Not likely, say Nasa’s scientists — but the real answer is perhaps even more concerning. The string, NASA says, is likely a piece of space trash that fell off the rover during its descent stage. The rover reportedly already found pieces of foil from its protective shield while driving around the red planet.

The string isn’t just staying in one place, either. It reportedly was located a long distance from the rover’s landing site, which indicates that it was blown around by Mars’ winds. When the rover returned to look for it, the string was gone.

That means that our rovers aren’t just moving around the red planet and passively observing it — they’re actively polluting the surface with pieces of leftover material, debris, and the like. On future missions, it might be hard to sort out what was on the planet already, and what was essentially cosmic litter that humans mistakenly brought there.

That’s probably not a huge deal with it comes to some string. But it’s also possible that the rovers could bring bacteria or viruses with them from Plant Earth that could mistakenly be seen as signs of microscopic life on Mars. If our rovers leave behind that kind of trash, it’s going to be much harder to know if we find real ancient life on the red planet.

It also just feels very human — we couldn’t content ourselves with sullying up our own planet, so we had to fly robots to one that’s hundreds of thousands of miles away, just to leave the equivalent of some candy bar wrappers and leftover shoelaces all over its surface, too.

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Award-winning entrepreneur, and the co-founder and CEO of Gado Images. Thomas writes, speaks and consults about artificial intelligence, privacy, food, photography, tech, and the San Francisco Bay Area. As a professional photographer, Thomas' photographic work regularly appears in publications worldwide. Pitches/news tips:

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