NASA Scientists Perplexed by Mystery Jelly Doughnut Shaped Rock on Mars
Posted on January 20, 2014
The L.A. Times reports that NASA scientists are puzzled by a rock that appeared in front of the Opportunity rover. The rock has been compared to a jelly doughnut by NASA scientists. The rock was not present in an image captured by Opportunity in last December, but appeared in an image of the same area 12 days later. The two images are pictured above.
NASA called the rock "Pinnacle Island" when it was first mentioned in Opportunity update, sols 3541-3547.
The rover has been finishing up analysis of the 'Cape Darby' area before moving on toward what the team believes will be her winter location. While preparing to start robotic arm work on the target 'Cape Elizabeth' on Sol 3541 (Jan. 8, 2014), Opportunity encountered a slight surprise -- a rock had appeared in the images that had not been there before. This target that has been named 'Pinnacle Island' and its origin has been the target of much speculation. It will likely be the target of considerable investigation over the next few days.CNN reports that NASA has two theories about the rock. The first and most plausible is that Oportunity's wheel somehow lifted the rock and flicked it to its new location. The second theory is that the rock was ejected from a nearby hole in the ground. CNN says, "Alternatively, there could be a smoking hole in the ground nearby and the rock could be a piece of crater ejecta, or piece of matter spewn from the hole."
What is also interesting about the rock is that it is unlike other rocks NASA's rovers have encountered on Mars. If Opportunity did accidentally flick a rock onto NASA's radar, it appears to have picked an interesting one. Steve Squyres, lead scientist of the Mars Exploration Rover mission, says the "jelly" portion of the rock is "like nothing we've ever seen before." Squyres says, "It's very high in sulphur, it's very high in magnesium, it's got twice as much manganese as we've ever seen in anything on Mars."