The Mars Perseverance rover has adopted a pet rock — or surprising hitchhiker — and has been taking care of it for four months.
The “unexpected traveling companion” first hopped a ride on the front left wheel of the rover in February, according to NASA, and has been riding around ever since. So far, it’s been transported more than 5.3 miles as the rover transmits images of the Red Planet to Earth.
“This rock isn’t doing any damage to the wheel, but throughout its (no doubt bumpy!) journey, it has clung on and made periodic appearances in our left Hazcam images,” NASA wrote in a statement, adding, “Perseverance’s pet rock has seen a lot on its travels… If this pet rock could talk, it might tell us about the changes it’s noticed as we [traveled] back north through the Octavia E. Butler landing site, and then west, passing the spectacular remains of the former extent of the delta, ‘Kodiak,’ on our journey to the western Jezero delta.”
The pet rock, may fall off the wheel at some point and will likely land among rocks that are very different.
“As one of our team members quipped this week, ‘we might confuse a future Mars geologist who finds it out of place!'” NASA wrote.
This isn’t the first time a rover picked up a rocky traveling companion, the agency noted. About 18 years ago, the Spirit rover collected a “potato-sized” rock that lodged itself into the rear right wheel and had to be dislodged. And the Curiosity rover occasionally picked up rocks as well.
But NASA noted the current Perseverance rock is “on its way to setting Mars hitch-hiking records!”
The Perseverance rover landed on Mars on Feb. 18, 2021, to “seek signs of ancient life and collect samples of rock and regolith (broken rock and soil) for possible return to Earth.” Since it arrived, it has been tweeting and sending images.
Later this month, the Grand Canyon will host a star party that kicks off with a Mars Perseverance presentation on June 18 to learn about the rover from someone who helped build it.
Alison Fox is a contributing writer for Travel + Leisure. When she’s not in New York City, she likes to spend her time at the beach or exploring new destinations and hopes to visit every country in the world. Follow her adventures on Instagram.