Some ideas on where the 'Jelly Donut' rock on Mars came from

Jan 30, 2014 by Nancy Atkinson, Universe Today
This before-and-after pair of images of the same patch of ground in front of NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity 13 days apart documents the arrival of a bright rock onto the scene. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell Univ./Arizona State Univ.

Hoo boy. Just mention the word "mystery" in conjunction with the planet Mars and all sorts of folks come out of the woodwork. Some start talking about silicon-based alien life forms or Mars-based reptiles or projectiles being tossed by little green men. The latest is that there's an exotic mushroom on Mars, and this idea has sparked a lawsuit against NASA.

This all started when a strange suddenly appeared in photos from the Opportunity rover in a spot where photos taken just 12 sols (Mars days) earlier showed no rock. Mission principal investigator Steve Squyres talked about it during the recent 10-year anniversary celebration for the rover.

"It appeared," Squyres said during the event. "It just plain appeared and we haven't driven over that spot."

They've named the rock "Pinnacle Island," and Squyres and the Mars Exploration Rover team think the most likely scenario is that the rover actually dislodged the rock with its wheels and flicked it to a new spot as the rover was turning. "We had driven a meter or two away from here and somehow maybe one of the wheels managed spit it out of the ground," Squyres said. "That's the more likely theory."

Another idea is that the rock is a piece of ejecta – a piece of rock which plunked down near the rover after being blasted out of the ground by a nearby meteoroid impact.

An idea favored by our readers here on Universe Today is that it possibly was a meteorite, dropping in from space and landing near the rover. Another thought is that since Opportunity is currently at Solander Point, a mountain of sorts, the rock may have rolled down to its new spot from a higher outcrop.

We checked in with Steve Squyres to see if there any new possibilities and he said the team thoughts on the rock's appearance are the same as they were last week.

"We think the most likely hypothesis is that it was dislodged by the rover wheels from a location that may currently be obscured by the solar arrays," he said via email.

Squyres described the rock as "white around the outside, in the middle there's low spot that is dark red. It looks like a jelly donut," and said it's like nothing they've ever seen before on Mars.

Then things got weird. We received an email this week from neurologist and self-proclaimed astrobiologist Dr. Rhawn Joseph, of the Journal of Cosmology fame who we've previously written about.

He has filed a lawsuit in the US District Court Northern District of California claiming the white rock is biological in nature and is seeking an order forcing NASA, Administrator Charles Bolden, and others including Squyres to "examine a biological specimen on Mars" and that NASA is failing to investigate the rock thoroughly enough.

Joseph is petitioning the Federal Court for a writ of mandamus to "compel and order" NASA to "perform a public, scientific, and statutory duty which is to closely photograph and thoroughly scientifically examine and investigate a putative biological organism which was identified (and thus discovered) by Petitioner."

From the lawsuit:

"Petitioner immediately recognized that bowl-shaped structure, hereafter referred to as Sol 3540, resembling a mushroom-like fungus, a composite organism consisting of colonies of lichen and cyanobacteria, and which on Earth is known as Apothecium."

"When examined by Petitioner the same structure in miniature was clearly visible upon magnification and appears to have just germinated from spores."

(Yeah, we've discussed previously the problems with zooming in on rocks on Mars – people start seeing crazy things).

For one thing, this is a rock. A rock. Squyres has said Pinnacle Island is very high in sulfur and magnesium, with twice as much manganese as anything else they've seen on Mars.

Second, the rover team is already throwing everything they've got at this rock.

"We are as we speak situated with the rover, with its instruments, making measurements on this rock. We've taken pictures of both the donut part and the jelly part," Squyres said during the 10-year anniversary event.

Third, Joseph is not the "discoverer" of this rock. The MER team is and they've given full disclosure, talking frequently about the rock and posting all the images they've taken of the rock available for anyone to peruse.

So, where did this rock come from?

Of course, the folks from UnmannedSpaceflight.com have been discussing this rock before anyone else, since December when the images were first downloaded from the rover and put on NASA's rover raw images website.

They've offered a few ideas, but this image from sol 3544 pointed out by "marsophile" on the forum might be the most compelling:

A disturbed area near the Opportunity rover that could be the spot where ‘Pinnacle Island’ came from. Credit: NASA/JPL.

There appears to hole in the ground where a rock may have previously been.

Another set of images submitted by Universe Today reader Yuksel Kenaroglu highlights a possible location where the rock may have come from, but changes in lighting might just be making things look different in the two images:

Two images from the Opportunity rover from Sol 3528 (right) and Sol 3540 showing possible location of where the ‘Jelly Donut’ rock came from. Image credit: Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell Univ./Arizona State Univ., notation via Yuksel Kenaroglu.

Joseph said he wants "A) 100 high resolution close-up infocus photos of the specimen identified in Sol 3540, at various angles, from all sides, and from above down into the "bowl" of the specimen, and under appropriate lighting conditions which minimize glare. B) Take a minimum of 24 microscopic in-focus images of the exterior, lip, walls, and interior of the specimen under appropriate lighting conditions. C) NASA, and the team must make public and supply Petitioner with all high resolution photos and images of that specimen as demanded in A and B."

Surely, Squyres and the MER team would like nothing better than to solve the mystery of how this rock appeared and just like the Mars flower, and the piece of plastic there's very little likelihood that biology plays any role in this rock an how it suddenly appeared.

If you want to see Joseph's lawsuit, PopSci has it online.

Explore further: Rock appears mysteriously in front of Mars Opportunity rover

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TheGhostofOtto1923
3.2 / 5 (6) Jan 30, 2014
""examine a biological specimen on Mars" and that NASA is failing to investigate the rock thoroughly enough."

Well from this we can begin to speculate that because of the suddenness of its appearance and it's lack of effect on the immediate area, it is not an organism per se but the excreta from one. It resembles something a gull would leave on your windshield.

And I suppose that a territorial animal, on seeing this Karmann ghia-sized beast lumbering through its territory, would want to mark it conspicuously like your dog peeing on grandmas leg.

Yes that's right it's a turd. Turds are common to life everywhere. And if launched from a sufficient height we would expect to see a frozen exterior which might fracture on impact, revealing a warm, moist, and dark interior. I don't see any evidence of steam but this would be time-dependent.
TheGhostofOtto1923
2.8 / 5 (5) Jan 30, 2014
We can further speculate that Martian conditions would cause most animals to live underground. Due to the scarcity of resources they might still be territorial, and instead of leaving their burrows to challenge interlopers they may have evolved the ability to launch their turds great distances.

This would take advantage of the flash-freezing effects of the atmosphere to solidify these turd bombs and increase their effect on impact. Artillery was an inevitable development of military evolution and we might expect to see similar occurrences in the animal world, given the right environment.

I tell you something - this image from NASA
http://www.nasa.g...7_oa9K0c

-shows a very smooth and featureless dune which they may want to climb. Does that really look like a dune or a shoop meant to obscure something? It looks odd doesn't it?
adam_russell_9615
not rated yet Jan 30, 2014
"Another idea is that the rock is a piece of ejecta – a piece of rock which plunked down near the rover after being blasted out of the ground by a nearby meteoroid impact.

Wouldnt a meteorite landing nearby be noticeable? I mean, when one landed in Siberia in 1908 it knocked trees flat for miles. Id think that even a small one would have been picked up by the rover's cameras and/or other metrics.
TheGhostofOtto1923
1 / 5 (1) Jan 30, 2014
"Another idea is that the rock is a piece of ejecta – a piece of rock which plunked down near the rover after being blasted out of the ground by a nearby meteoroid impact.

Wouldnt a meteorite landing nearby be noticeable? I mean, when one landed in Siberia in 1908 it knocked trees flat for miles. Id think that even a small one would have been picked up by the rover's cameras and/or other metrics.
--As well as one over russia last year - did you miss it?
http://en.wikiped...k_meteor

-Tunguska and this recent one both exploded before they hit the ground. Resulting fragments were recovered. These can hit the ground at much reduced velocities and also bounce and roll a great distance, especially in the weaker martian gravity, and so may not disturb the ground much at all where they come to rest.
rwinners
not rated yet Jan 31, 2014
Seems as if the jelly donut is bring out the fruitcakes!
Porgie
not rated yet Jan 31, 2014
I'm telling you its kekek from phuuut, phuuut, stranded on an uncharted desert planet. Don't drill into him or its war.
Porgie
not rated yet Jan 31, 2014
Its was kicked out by one of the wheels and landed in a convenient spot for mystery. Look at the picture, there is an outline of the rock near the rover.
seath
not rated yet Feb 01, 2014
My theory is the "rock" is condensed vapor from the ground.

Supporting points.

The white material on the outside has a higher freezing temp than the red colored material in the center.

It's light a fluffy like you would expect a piece of frost.

In the before picture there is a ring of pebbles that outline where the "rock" is now. This is because it has been there before.

Why would there be a ring of pebbles right where the rock landed if it had been thrown there?

Hopefully information will be forthcoming to resolve the issue.
TurningHeads
5 / 5 (1) Feb 02, 2014
Thanks for admiring the wonderful rock that my mind brilliantly placed a few weeks ago on the Martian landscape and exactly with the specifications that I had wanted it to be. I've been in stitches ever since its discovery.
Lex Talonis
not rated yet Feb 02, 2014
Trouble is that "rock" is much like a few photos run in reverse.

Imagine a house brick , dropped into the sand, leaving an impression, and then photographing the brick insitu and photographing the depression after it's removed.

Well that "rock" has a "seating" or "location" mark on the ground where it appears afterwards.

Kind of like as if it had of been put there, and then removed and the image sequence reversed - the mark on the ground where is was, shown before it was in position.

It may be the lump in the ground of a fungal thing about to sprout... Or.... not.

There is also the mystery "tap handle" as I coined it.....

http://doubtfulne...seup.jpg

http://doubtfulne...on-mars/

Personally - I think the crew doing the filming in the desert, dropped a half eaten dough nut and it was caught on camera, before they winched the rover to another location on "Marrs".
TurningHeads
5 / 5 (1) Feb 02, 2014
I'm still laughing at the world. But am trying to reach out. I'm not lying either. I have a very unique DNA structure, have been tested before to prove that. Test me again. But if the world just wants to think I'm crazy. So be it. I'll create another mysterious rock and dumbfound you all yet again.

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