‘Otherworldly’ images that capture what looks like a flying saucer crashed on Mars have been revealed by NASA.
But although the scene may appear sci-fi like — as one engineer described it — the wreckage shown actually belongs to humans, not an alien civilisation.
The colour pictures were taken by the US space agency’s Ingenuity helicopter and capture the landing equipment used during its arrival with the Perseverance rover in February last year.
A parachute and the cone-shaped backshell that protected the car-sized vehicle in space, as well as during its fiery descent toward the Martian surface, can be seen in incredible detail.
Fascinating: ‘Otherworldly’ images that capture what looks like a flying saucer crashed on Mars have been revealed by NASA
But although the scene may appear sci-fi like — as one engineer described it — the wreckage shown actually belongs to humans, not an alien civilisation. The colour pictures were taken by the US space agency’s Ingenuity helicopter and capture the landing equipment used during its arrival with the Perseverance rover in February last year
INGENUITY FLIGHTS SO FAR
Flight one: April 19, 2021 with a vertical takeoff up to 9.8ft, stationary hover and a landing
Flight two: April 22, 2021 with a vertical takeoff up to 16ft, hover, then shift westward for 14ft before returning and landing
Flight three: April 25, 2021 with a vertical takeoff up to 16ft, hover, shift northwards for 328ft at an airspeed of 2 m/s before returning to land
Flight four: April 30, 2021 with a vertical takeoff up to 16ft, hover, shift southwards 873ft at 3.5m/s before returning to land
Flight five: May 7, 2021 with a vertical takeoff up to 33ft, hover, shift southwards 423ft at 3.5 m/s before landing at that new location
Flight six: May 22, 2021 with a vertical takeoff of 33ft, hover, shift southwest 492ft at 9mph, travel 49ft south, travel 164ft before returning to land
Flight seven: June 8, 2021 with a vertical takeoff of 33ft, hover, shift 348ft at 9mph, land at Airfield D
Flight eight: June 21, 2021 with a vertical takeoff, hover, shift southwest 520ft, land at Airfield E 438ft away from Perseverance
Flight nine: July 5, 2021 with a record length of 2,050ft southwest over a prospective research location at 16ft per second.
Flight ten: July 24, 2021 with a record height of 40 feet (12 metres) over Raised Ridges to Airfield G. Flight duration 165.4 seconds.
Flight eleven: August 5, 2021 by flying 1,250ft for 130 seconds in preparation for a series of reconnaissance missions for the Perseverance rover.
Flight twelve: August 16, 2021 by flying 1,476ft for 169 seconds, climbing 32.8ft in the air, over the ‘South Seitah’ region of Mars.
Flight thirteen: September 5, 2021 by flying 690ft for 160.5 seconds, climbing 26ft over one particular ridgeline over the ‘South Seitah’ region of Mars.
Flight fourteen: October 25, 2021 by flying a ‘short hop’ of 6.5ft (2m) to test out higher rpm settings. It flew for 23 seconds at 1mph at an altitude of 16ft (5m).
Flight fifteen: November 6, 2021 by flying back towards its original landing site. It flew for a total of 128 seconds at an estimated 11mph.
Flight sixteen: November 20, 2021 by travelling 381ft (116m) for a total of 108 seconds at an estimated 3mph.
Flight seventeen: December 5, 2021 by flying back toward the Wright Brothers Field at the Octavia E. Butler landing site. It flew 614ft (187m) for a total of 117 seconds at an estimated 6mph.
Flight eighteen: December 15, 2021 by travelling 755ft (230m) for a total of 124.3 seconds at an estimated 5mph.
Flight nineteen: February 7, 2022 by travelling 207ft (63m) for a total of 99.8 seconds at an estimated 2mph.
Flight twenty: February 25, 2022 by travelling 1,283ft (391m) for a total of 130.3 seconds at an estimated 10mph.
Flight twenty one: March 11, 2022 by travelling 1,214ft (370m) for a total of 129.2 seconds at an estimated 8mph.
Flight twenty two: March 19, 2022 by travelling 223ft (68m) for a total of 101.4 seconds at an estimated 2.2mph.
Flight twenty three: March 23, 2022 by travelling 1,175ft (358m) for a total of 129.1 seconds at an estimated 8.9mph.
Flight twenty four: April 3, 2022 by travelling 154ft (47m) for a total of 69.5 seconds at an estimated 3.2mph.
Flight twenty five: April 8, 2022 by travelling 2,310ft (704m) for a total of 161.3 seconds at an estimated 12.3mph.
Flight twenty six: April 19, 2022 by travelling 1,181ft (360m) for a total of 159 seconds at an estimated 8.5mph.
Flight twenty seven: April 23, 2022 by travelling 1,007ft (307m) for a total of 152.9 seconds at an estimated 6.7mph.
Ingenuity snapped the aerial images during its 26th flight on the Red Planet, which took place on the one-year anniversary of its iconic first flight. The ‘marscopter’ was originally designed to do just five flights.
‘There’s definitely a sci-fi element to it,’ Ian Clark, an engineer who worked on Perseverance’s parachute system, said of the photographs, speaking to the NY Times.
‘It exudes otherworldly, doesn’t it?’
He added: ‘They say a picture’s worth 1,000 words, but it’s also worth an infinite amount of engineering understanding.’
Entry, descent, and landing on Mars is fast-paced and stressful, not only for the engineers back on Earth, but also for the vehicle enduring the gravitational forces, high temperatures, and other extremes that come with entering Mars’ atmosphere at nearly 12,500 mph (20,000 kph).
The parachute and backshell were previously imaged from a distance by the Perseverance rover.
But those collected by the rotorcraft — from an aerial perspective and closer — provide more detail.
NASA said the images have the potential to help ensure safer landings for future spacecraft such as the Mars Sample Return Lander, which is part of a multimission campaign that would bring Perseverance’s samples of Martian rocks, atmosphere, and sediment back to Earth for detailed analysis.
‘Perseverance had the best-documented Mars landing in history, with cameras showing everything from parachute inflation to touchdown,’ Clark said.
‘But Ingenuity’s images offer a different vantage point.
‘If they either reinforce that our systems worked as we think they worked or provide even one dataset of engineering information we can use for Mars Sample Return planning, it will be amazing.
‘And if not, the pictures are still phenomenal and inspiring.’
In the images of the upright backshell and the debris field that resulted from it impacting the surface at about 78 mph (126 kph), the backshell’s protective coating appears to have remained intact during Mars atmospheric entry.
Many of the 80 high-strength suspension lines connecting the backshell to the parachute are visible and also appear intact.
Spread out and covered in dust, only about a third of the orange-and-white parachute – at 70.5 feet (21.5 meters) wide, it was the biggest ever deployed on Mars – can be seen, but the canopy shows no signs of damage from the supersonic airflow during inflation.
Several weeks of analysis will be needed for a more final verdict.
‘NASA extended Ingenuity flight operations to perform pioneering flights such as this,’ said Teddy Tzanetos, Ingenuity’s team lead at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California.
‘Every time we’re airborne, Ingenuity covers new ground and offers a perspective no previous planetary mission could achieve.’
The Ingenuity rotorcraft, which is just 18 inches tall, was originally designed to fly five times on Mars but has now carried out 27 trips across the Red Planet.
It made history in April 2021 when it completed the first powered controlled flight on any planet other than Earth.
The helicopter is currently acting as a scout for the Perseverance rover, which is searching for ancient microbial life on the Red Planet, and will continue testing its own capabilities to support the design of future Mars air vehicles.
Ingenuity’s 159-second flight 26 began at 11:37am local Mars time on April 19.
Flying at 26 feet (8 metres) above ground level, Ingenuity travelled 630 feet (192 metres) to the southeast and took its first picture.
The rotorcraft next headed southwest and then northwest, taking images at pre-planned locations along the route.
Once it had collected 10 images in its flash memory, Ingenuity headed west 246 feet (75 metres) and landed.
The total distance covered was 1,181 feet (360 metres). With the completion of Flight 26, the rotorcraft has now logged more than 49 minutes aloft and travelled 3.9 miles (6.2 kilometres).
‘To get the shots we needed, Ingenuity did a lot of maneuvering, but we were confident because there was complicated maneuvering on flights 10, 12, and 13,’ said Håvard Grip, chief pilot of Ingenuity at JPL.
‘Our landing spot set us up nicely to image an area of interest for the Perseverance science team on Flight 27, near ‘Séítah’ ridge.’
The new area of operations in Jezero Crater’s dry river delta marks a dramatic departure from the modest, relatively flat terrain Ingenuity had been flying over since its first flight.
Several miles wide, the fan-shaped delta formed where an ancient river spilled into the lake that once filled Jezero Crater.
Rising more than 130 feet (40 meters) above the crater floor and filled with jagged cliffs, angled surfaces, projecting boulders, and sand-filled pockets, the delta promises to hold numerous geologic revelations — perhaps even proof that microscopic life existed on Mars billions of years ago.
Upon reaching the delta, Ingenuity’s first orders may be to help determine which of two dry river channels Perseverance should climb to reach the top of the delta.
Along with route-planning assistance, data provided by the helicopter will help the Perseverance team assess potential science targets.
Ingenuity may even be called upon to image geologic features too far afield for the rover to reach or to scout landing zones and sites on the surface where sample caches could be deposited for the Mars Sample Return program.
A parachute and the cone-shaped backshell that protected the car-sized vehicle in space, as well as during its fiery descent toward the Martian surface, can be seen in incredible detail
Ingenuity arrived on Mars attached to the belly of Perseverance, which touched down on Mars on February 18, 2021 after a nearly seven-month journey through space (pictured in an artist’s impression)
Ingenuity (pictured) snapped the aerial images during its 26th flight on the Red Planet. That is 21 more than it was originally designed to do and took place on the one-year anniversary of its iconic first flight
Ingenuity arrived on Mars attached to the belly of Perseverance, which touched down on Mars on February 18, 2021 after a nearly seven-month journey through space.
Perseverance made its first test drive on Mars on March 4, and on April 4, NASA confirmed that Ingenuity had been dropped to the surface of Mars from Perseverance’s ‘belly’ in preparation for its historic flight.
NASA also said on April 5 that Ingenuity had survived its first night on the Martian surface — a major milestone because surface temperatures can plunge as low as -130°F (-90°C).
The helicopter made its first flight on April 19, 2021, making history as the first powered controlled flight on any planet other than Earth.
In a nod to this feat, Ingenuity carries a small amount of fabric that covered one of the wings of the Wright brothers’ aircraft, known as the Flyer, during the first powered, controlled flight on Earth in 1903.
For the first flight, Ingenuity took off, climbed to about 10 feet (3 metres) above the ground, hovered in the air briefly, completed a turn and then landed after 39.1 seconds.
NASA MARS 2020: PERSEVERANCE ROVER AND INGENUITY HELICOPTER ARE SEARCHING FOR LIFE ON THE RED PLANET
NASA’s Mars 2020 mission was launched to search for signs of ancient life on the Red Planet in a bid to help scientists better understand how life evolved on Earth in the earliest years of the evolution of the solar system.
Named Perseverance, the main car-sized rover is exploring an ancient river delta within the Jezero Crater, which was once filled with a 1,600ft deep lake.
It is believed that the region hosted microbial life some 3.5 to 3.9 billion years ago and the rover will examine soil samples to hunt for evidence of the life.
Nasa’s Mars 2020 rover (artist’s impression) is searching for signs of ancient life on Mars in a bid to help scientists better understand how life evolved on our own planet
The $2.5 billion (£1.95 billion) Mars 2020 spaceship launched on July 30 with the rover and helicopter inside – and landed successfully on February 18, 2021.
Perseverance landed inside the crater and will slowly collect samples that will eventually be returned to Earth for further analysis.
A second mission will fly to the planet and return the samples, perhaps by the later 2020s in partnership with the European Space Agency.
This concept art shows the Mars 2020 rover landing on the red planet via NASA’s ‘sky-crane’ system