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Authentic Photo of ‘Otherworldly Wreckage’ on Mars Spotted by NASA?


A NASA photo authentically shows “otherworldly wreckage” on Mars.



While the photograph is genuine, what it shows is the NASA lander’s aeroshell (heat-shielded protective shell) – initially launched from Earth – and not “otherwordly wreckage,” as posts on social media misleadingly claimed.

A phenomenon described by some as “otherworldy wreckage on Mars” appears in a photograph shared across multiple social media platforms and websites since 2022. It consists of a white, triangular-shaped object with a debris field surrounding what looks to be a crash landing site.

One iteration of the “otherworldly wreckage” claim garnered more than 3.2 million views on X, as of this publication. 

A reverse-image search using Google Lens returned a public-domain image that identified the wreckage in the photo as the backshell and parachute from the Mars Ingenuity Helicopter. 

Therefore, while the photograph is genuine, it shows the NASA lander’s aeroshell – initially launched from Earth – and not “otherwordly wreckage,” as some posts on social media misleadingly claimed. 

Speaking to the Seattle Times in April 2022, Ian Clark, an engineer who worked on Perseverance’s parachute system, said of the photographs:

There’s definitely a sci-fi element to it… It exudes otherworldly, doesn’t it?

The photograph was captured from above the surface of the planet on April 19, 2022, by engineers working on the Mars Sample Return program, according to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). It shows Perseverance’s backshell as it sits upright on the surface of Mars’ Jezero Crater. Collected from an altitude of about 26 feet, the photograph was captured by NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter during its 26th flight on Mars on April 19, 2022. 

Since February 18, 2021 – when the photograph in question was taken – the Perseverance rover has been exploring Jezero Crater, a location on Mars described by NASA as showing “promising signs of a place that was likely friendly to life in the distant past.” Perseverance studies the site by collecting rock cores and other samples of Mars material which scientists say could be retrieved and brought to Earth at a future date. 

To assist in the landing of rovers like Perseverance, scientists use what’s known as an aeroshell. An aeroshell is made up of two main components: a heat shield and a backshell. 

“Together, they encapsulate the spacecraft, tucking its science instruments, descent stage and other operational equipment safely inside,” writes Lockheed Martin, the aeronautics company that developed the Perseverance aeroshell. The company continues: 

The aeroshell’s shining moment occurs during entry, decent and landing (EDL). As the spacecraft performs a variety of maneuvers to safely land at its destination, the heat shield quite literally shields the spacecraft from the extreme heat generated during the initial descent through a planet’s atmosphere (typically around 2,700°F on Mars). In addition, the heat shield’s natural aerodynamics serve as a “brake” to help slow the spacecraft.

The cone-shaped backshell structure also plays an important role during EDL. The backshell supports the parachute and other mechanisms needed for a safe landing, including electronics and batteries. Plus, the backshell has holes for the small thrusters that help keep the spacecraft correctly oriented.

The photograph was taken at the request of engineers working on the Mars Sample Return program, according to an accompanying descriptionwhich continued: 

The tangle of cables seen streaming out from the top of the backshell, and coated with Martian dust on the surface, are high-strength suspension lines that connect the backshell to Perseverance’s supersonic parachute (upper left). The backshell and parachute helped protect the rover in deep space and during its fiery descent toward the Martian surface.

Snopes has looked into other questionable photographs taken of Mars, including one of a so-called “portal and a wall” on the red planet, a color photograph that shows a “drilled hole,” and and another image of a supposedly mysterious object on the planet’s surface.

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