Rock appears mysteriously in front of Mars Opportunity rover

Jan 20, 2014 by Bob Yirka weblog
Credit: NASA

(Phys.org) —The lead scientist for NASA's Mars rover exploration team (Steve Squyres) has announced that recent images beamed back by the Opportunity rover show a rock sitting in a place nearby where there wasn't one just twelve days prior. The image, he says, has caused quite a commotion with the rover team as possible explanations for the sudden appearance of the rock are bandied about. The announcement was part of a meeting at California Institute of Technology to celebrate a decade of service by the tiny rover.

Opportunity has of course, far outlived expectations. What was originally supposed to be a three month tour has now passed ten years. In all that time, nothing on the planet's surface has changed of its own accord. Until now. Opportunity sent back an image of the landscape just ahead of it, then twelve days later, sent back another image of virtually the same landscape (Opportunity is waiting in place for bad weather to subside). The images showed everything to be the same except for a small —a jelly doughnut sized rock. How it got there has NASA's best scratching their heads. Thus far, they have two main likely explanations: either the rock was tossed to that spot after a meteorite impact nearby, or far more likely, it came to rest there as a result of clumsy maneuvering by Opportunity itself. The rover is having trouble getting around these days as one of its actuators has failed. This means one wheel winds up scrapping the ground during turns, producing what Squyres described as "chatter" which he said could have caused some debris to be flung to where the rock is now sitting.

An initial inspection of the rock indicates that it's very high in sulphur and potassium—it has bright white edges with a deep ruby red center, and looks very much like a jelly doughnut. The rover team has named it "Pinnacle Island." Squyres reported that the rock appears to be in an upside-down position, which means it's showing a face that has not been impacted by the Martian atmosphere, for perhaps millions of years.

The rover team plans to conduct further tests on the rock, and will almost certainly have the spin around as soon as it's able to see if other rocks have appeared as well.

Explore further: Mars rover photographs featured at US museum (Update)

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User comments : 65

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Doug_Huffman
2.8 / 5 (5) Jan 20, 2014
Until the chemical composition made the news, I thought frost flower for the similar circular feature under Pinnacle Island and similarly located in the before image.
GSwift7
4.9 / 5 (9) Jan 20, 2014
either the rock was tossed to that spot after a meteorite impact nearby, or


Yeah, wouldn't it be cool to turn the rover around and see a 10 meter crater right behind it? lol, that would be a trip. I know, I know, the rock was almost surely kicked around by the rover, like the story says. Still, it's always fun to wonder what happens just out of sight of the rover's camera, or just before or after a picture is taken. If there was such a thing as Martian elephants, a whole herd of them could walk by a rover in sleep mode and we wouldn't have a clue.
Mayday
3 / 5 (5) Jan 20, 2014
They should (and probably did) overlay before and after photos of the rover's entire environment. If thrown, even from a wheel, the rock would have bounced in to settle in this position. There should be at least one small disturbance in the gravels nearby. And they should also do the same using hi-res orbiter images of the area to see if there was an impact.
GSwift7
4.7 / 5 (6) Jan 20, 2014
And they should also do the same using hi-res orbiter images of the area to see if there was an impact


There probably isn't a recent hi-res orbital image. The Hi-RISE camera on the Mars orbiter can only take detailed photographs of tiny sections of the planet at one time, and they aren't even done photographing all the things they would like to see yet. There's a huge list of work already lined up for that camera.
Sinister1812
4.9 / 5 (12) Jan 20, 2014
It's those Martian kids throwing rocks at the rover again..
ubavontuba
3.4 / 5 (8) Jan 20, 2014
Weird ...it looks like it was just placed there, as there appears to be no in frame disturbances, to even a single pebble.

And "jelly doughnut sized" seems too large to have been kicked up by the rover...

Maybe its a Horta!

http://upload.wik...Dark.jpg

....and the famed "blueberries" are its eggs!

http://www.70disc...rta3.jpg

LOL

Sinister1812
2.8 / 5 (4) Jan 20, 2014
It looks like a pretty small rock. Is it possible the wind could have moved it there?
jackjump
1.3 / 5 (4) Jan 20, 2014
It looks to me like something being extruded up through a crack in a crust over mud maybe because of the heating of the soil beneath.
jimmybobber
1 / 5 (1) Jan 20, 2014
Looks like something similar to Fuligo septica (dog vomit slime mold)

TheGhostofOtto1923
2.8 / 5 (4) Jan 20, 2014
It looks to me like something being extruded up through a crack in a crust over mud maybe because of the heating of the soil beneath.
This is only because you are too used to looking at cannolis and eclairs and jelly donuts.
jimmybobber
1 / 5 (2) Jan 20, 2014
Looks like something similar to Fuligo septica (dog vomit slime mold)


I mean it looks like it grew up from the rock and moved like a slime mold would.
shannon_blake88
1 / 5 (5) Jan 20, 2014
maybe that rock is can be explained.if a ocean has nothing moving in it for 100,000 years,then it's surface will be flat and motionless.but you add about 10,000 years of living creatures moving on it,the you will get waves and ripples in the water.air current is very similiar in nature,movement causes change that will move rocks on it's surface.shannon...
adam_russell_9615
1 / 5 (4) Jan 20, 2014
Noumenon
3.2 / 5 (5) Jan 20, 2014
It looks to me like something being extruded up through a crack in a crust over mud maybe because of the heating of the soil beneath.


You may be right, or NASA is desperate to remind everyone they exist and are hyping a non-event. If you look at the first frame there is what appears an outline of the rock,... seen in this image a little clearer.
Noumenon
2.5 / 5 (4) Jan 20, 2014
It looks to me like something being extruded up through a crack in a crust over mud maybe because of the heating of the soil beneath.
This is only because you are too used to looking at cannolis and eclairs and jelly donuts.


Looks like you owe Obama_socks/RichieGuy an apology; There IS gelatinous beings on mars afterall, lol.

Maybe its a Horta!


That has got to be the lazyest special effects I've ever seen, lol.
abbotn
2.5 / 5 (4) Jan 20, 2014
At the lower left corner you can see a mark where it must have bounced before resting.
Returners
2.3 / 5 (7) Jan 20, 2014
At first I thought "wind". However, the rover would have been far more likely to catch wind from whatever dust devil might have happened, because of the panels and such. I think if a dust devil strong enough to move a rock the size of a donut in 1/100th earth atmospere had happened, it surely would have overturned the rover.

Ejecta from a meteorite (during the mission) seems unlikely, because there should have been tons of dust sized and pellet sized ejecta in the area, though different grain sizes will fly at different velocities due to change in air resistance and mass-to-surface area ratios. Either way, the rover should have been peppered by other debris.

A rock could move around due to frost wedging over several days and nights, but that would have been noticed since it'd require a fluid to freeze and thaw repeatedly.

I think they are correct in saying the most likely scenario is that it somehow got kicked up and over-turned by the rover itself.
Ens
5 / 5 (3) Jan 20, 2014
The Moon is a Harsh Mistress
TheGhostofOtto1923
3 / 5 (2) Jan 20, 2014
At first I thought "wind". However, the rover would have been far more likely to catch wind from whatever dust devil might have happened, because of the panels and such. I think if a dust devil strong enough to move a rock the size of a donut in 1/100th earth atmospere had happened, it surely would have overturned the rover
As always its not a good idea to learn things from your imagination.

"Sailing stones, sliding rocks, and moving rocks all refer to a geological phenomenon where rocks move and inscribe long tracks along a smooth valley floor without human or animal intervention. Tracks from these sliding rocks have been observed and studied in various locations, including Little Bonnie Claire Playa in Nevada, and most notably Racetrack Playa, Death Valley National Park, California, where the number and length of tracks are notable."
http://en.wikiped...g_stones
TheGhostofOtto1923
1 / 5 (2) Jan 20, 2014
Looks like you owe Obama_socks/RichieGuy an apology; There IS gelatinous beings on mars afterall, lol.
Eat or be eaten its the law of the universe. Hey - Im a philosopher. That wasnt hard.
Feldagast
not rated yet Jan 20, 2014
Digi
2 / 5 (1) Jan 20, 2014
Having compared the before and after images at better quality than the one in the article I can see that two pebbles have moved which are in line with the rover. Still, it was exciting while it lasted and the rock itself is interesting!
goracle
3 / 5 (2) Jan 20, 2014
It's those Martian kids throwing rocks at the rover again..

Martians these days!
TheGhostofOtto1923
1 / 5 (2) Jan 20, 2014
It looks to me like something being extruded up through a crack in a crust over mud maybe because of the heating of the soil beneath.


You may be right, or NASA is desperate to remind everyone they exist and are hyping a non-event. If you look at the first frame there is what appears an outline of the rock,... seen in http://www.belfas...351.html a little clearer.
I think its a flower. Which means there must be flying insects nearby.
Whydening Gyre
3 / 5 (2) Jan 20, 2014
It looks to me like something being extruded up through a crack in a crust over mud maybe because of the heating of the soil beneath.


You may be right, or NASA is desperate to remind everyone they exist and are hyping a non-event. If you look at the first frame there is what appears an outline of the rock,... seen in http://www.belfas...351.html a little clearer.
I think its a flower. Which means there must be flying insects nearby.

Is it spring on Mars already?
Returners
3.5 / 5 (2) Jan 20, 2014
As always its not a good idea to learn things from your imagination.

"Sailing stones, sliding rocks, and moving rocks all refer to a geological phenomenon where rocks move and inscribe long tracks along a smooth valley floor without human or animal intervention. Tracks from these sliding rocks have been observed and studied in various locations, including Little Bonnie Claire Playa in Nevada, and most notably Racetrack Playa, Death Valley National Park, California, where the number and length of tracks are notable."
http://en.wikiped...g_stones


I'm aware of that.

There is no evidence of any dragging or markings in that picture, so that method of movement wasn't even in consideration.

The rock looks almost like it was literally picked up and neatly sat there. The only explanation I can make sense of is the theory that the rover somehow kicked it up; the others suggested so far would have been too obvious.
morpheal_productions
1 / 5 (1) Jan 20, 2014
If you compare the two images, you notice a very light, roundish, area, where the new object is located in the previous image. It occurs on a fissure in the rock and is lighter than the surroundings, similar to the light coloring of the outside perimeter of the new object. Peculiarly the new object is "rooted" on that lighter spot and has a dark red, depressed center. All of those factors, including the dark red center located in the depressed region, as well as the location and the light color there prior, indicate that it COULD be a form of life, rather than a rock. In fact the area round the very light area in the first image shows a darker shade roughly consistent with the shape of the new object. That could be further indication of the same. Could it be a very primitive form of plant life ? It could be. In fact that is more plausible than arguments that it was thrown there by the wheels or that it fell from somewhere nearby, as there are few disturbances of the smaller particles
Whydening Gyre
5 / 5 (2) Jan 20, 2014
There is no evidence of any dragging or markings in that picture, so that method of movement wasn't even in consideration.

The rock looks almost like it was literally picked up and neatly sat there. The only explanation I can make sense of is the theory that the rover somehow kicked it up; the others suggested so far would have been too obvious.

Possibly it is a pumice-like material with an already low mass to volume ratio. Wind of a moderate sufficiency could probably blow it there. Watch for a few days and see if it blows away...
Whydening Gyre
4 / 5 (3) Jan 20, 2014
If you compare the two images, you notice a very light, roundish, area, where the new object is located in the previous image. It occurs on a fissure in the rock and is lighter than the surroundings, similar to the light coloring of the outside perimeter of the new object. Peculiarly the new object is "rooted" on that lighter spot and has a dark red, depressed center. All of those factors, including the dark red center located in the depressed region, as well as the location and the light color there prior, indicate that it COULD be a form of life, rather than a rock. In fact the area round the very light area in the first image shows a darker shade roughly consistent with the shape of the new object. That could be further indication of the same. Could it be a very primitive form of plant life ?

and this is how it begins...
"All these planets are yours - except Mars. Attempt no landing there..."
We didn't get that memo... Imagination is it's own power source.
dan42day
1 / 5 (1) Jan 20, 2014
That's where Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich hid New Jersey governor Chris Christie's jelly donut in retaliation for the G.W. Bridge lane closures.
Sinister1812
4.3 / 5 (3) Jan 21, 2014
This might sound ridiculous. But what if rocks could move around on Mars, like the sailing stones in Death Valley?
http://en.wikiped...ng_stone
TheGhostofOtto1923
3 / 5 (4) Jan 21, 2014
There is no evidence of any dragging or markings in that picture, so that method of movement wasn't even in consideration
There is no evidence from looking at one grainy picture from one angle that the ground on which the rock sits is capable of being marked by dragging of said stone, or that there might be drag marks that aren't apparent. The example I presented showed that rocks can be moved by wind.

Your set of assumptions is unrealistic and your conclusions unwarranted given the paucity of information and because well they're usually unrealistic and unwarranted aren't they? We assume unrealism a priori. Lrrkrr.
goracle
5 / 5 (4) Jan 21, 2014
This might sound ridiculous. But what if rocks could move around on Mars, like the sailing stones in Death Valley?
http://en.wikiped...ng_stone

The problem with that idea is that the atmosphere is so much thinner that the push on the rock from a wind of an equivalent speed would be very weak. That, and the rocks in Death Valley are associated with tracks.
goracle
5 / 5 (3) Jan 21, 2014
If that's a jelly doughnut, where are the cops?
bearly
1 / 5 (1) Jan 21, 2014
If it's on its back it must want a tummy rub.
Captain Stumpy
3 / 5 (1) Jan 21, 2014
At the lower left corner you can see a mark where it must have bounced before resting.

@abbotn
doesn't look like a disturbance so much as a change in the light source altering the shadows creating a different look

Having compared the before and after images at better quality than the one in the article

@Digi
can you share that link?

If you look at the first frame there is what appears an outline of the rock

@noumenon
and in the second frame you can see part of that same outline UNDER the rock
TheGhostofOtto1923
1 / 5 (1) Jan 21, 2014
I think its a flower. Which means there must be flying insects nearby

There is evidence for at least one bumblebee on mars
http://www.youtub...9EBBUZ20
http://www.youtub...un9HGgBw

-Seriously if this was an extrusion or growth of some sort it wouldnt be too different from other strange protuberances we have pictures of.
http://www.univer...-mars-2/
http://www.indepe...mp;ino=2
sirchick
1.5 / 5 (2) Jan 21, 2014
Its a rock.. nothing to see here move along.
goracle
not rated yet Jan 22, 2014
Its a rock.. nothing to see here move along.

Sometimes a rock is really a cigar.
Whydening Gyre
not rated yet Jan 22, 2014
Its a rock.. nothing to see here move along.

Sometimes a rock is really a cigar.

Gor,
All in the context, man...
sirchick
not rated yet Jan 22, 2014
Its a rock.. nothing to see here move along.

Sometimes a rock is really a cigar.


Ah a rock cigar... popular on mars i hear.
Whydening Gyre
not rated yet Jan 22, 2014
Its a rock.. nothing to see here move along.

Sometimes a rock is really a cigar.


Ah a rock cigar... popular on mars i hear.

Ya, but really they taste like crap.
PhotonX
5 / 5 (4) Jan 22, 2014
Could it be a very primitive form of plant life ? It could be. In fact that is more plausible than arguments that it was thrown there by the wheels or that it fell from somewhere nearby
You think that it's more plausible that it's a plant, the first extraterrestrial life found, and not the rock that it appears to be, kicked up by the wheeled vehicle just yards away? Really? I don't want to start a war, but this is one of the most absurd assertions I've ever heard, especially since the rover hasn't even yet had the opportunity (no pun intended) to drive up and poke it. Should it prove to be soft and not hard, then there might be some substance to your claim, but it's very premature at this point, and I'm sure you'll regret making it after we get the manipulator arm on it.
.
Come to think of it, though, at least you aren't claiming that it is easily explained by the Electric Universe theory, so I guess there is still some leeway on that score.
.
Whydening Gyre
5 / 5 (2) Jan 22, 2014
Photon said the magic words - Poke it...
And then observe.
Or just wait and observe. Only thing you have to lose is the time spent.
Digi
5 / 5 (2) Jan 23, 2014
Captain Stumpy. I have put the image up on twitter and highlighted the area where the pebbles have been displaced. https://twitter.com/Digibites
Captain Stumpy
5 / 5 (1) Jan 23, 2014
@Digi
thank you for that
the area where the pebbles have been displaced

the second pic moves the smaller circle a little
it appears, though, to be that the changing point of origin of the light source is the reason for some of the apparent changes,
although, in the large circle, there is a very noticeable difference
interesting
snoosebaum
not rated yet Jan 23, 2014
how about stuff collected on the wheels of the rover , fell off?
11791
4 / 5 (1) Jan 23, 2014
Its a peace offering from the natives of Mars.
Danie
not rated yet Jan 23, 2014
Aside from the change of light source, presumably from time of day photo was taken, there are some other differences in the picture as well.
goracle
5 / 5 (1) Jan 23, 2014
It's hard to know what the slope is like from the photographs. Is it flat terrain or inclined or more complex in the vicinity of the rover?
cantdrive85
4 / 5 (1) Jan 23, 2014
and this is how it begins...
"All these planets are yours - except Mars. Attempt no landing there..."

When Cassini gets swallowed by a giant jelly doughnut that suddenly appears in Saturn's orbit we'll know we're screwed!
Whydening Gyre
4.7 / 5 (3) Jan 23, 2014
Its a peace offering from the natives of Mars.

No. the probe sat still for a while. Martians have placed it there to see what rover would do with it.
Opportunity and vicariously, US, are being "poked"...
indio007
1 / 5 (1) Jan 23, 2014
All this speculation when the most likely answer is fraud. There's over a billion reasons to motivate.

Fraud is a way of life in modern America. It's the most prevalent business model.
pianoman
not rated yet Jan 25, 2014
The next time a rock hits my windshield, I'll blame it on the Rover.
Porgie
not rated yet Jan 25, 2014
That's no rock, that's kekek from phuut phuut and he was stranded on the uncharted desert isle, I mean planet. He's trying to make contact. Don't drill into him!
baudrunner
1 / 5 (1) Jan 25, 2014
I'm inclined to agree with @morpheal_productions. In the first image there is a circular impression embossed in the slab of stone where the "rock" appears, which looks to me like it may be the beginning of a fungal growth of some kind, which appears in the second image. NASA/JPL are notorious for calling every Martian oddity a rock, so let's just let them. We happen to have some pretty weird plant life here, too, like plants that bloom once in a hundred years, for example. Let's consider the possibility of sulfur based life, in keeping with the Iron–sulfur world theory. It would include the mildly radioactive potassium, which is also vital for our own health. And it is representative of an emergence theory, which proposes that early life may have formed on the surface of iron sulfide minerals. I know it's difficult to wrap one's head around it because all criticisms will be vetted from within the context of our Earthly existence. This ain't Mars. Rover needs time-lapse camera.
baudrunner
1 / 5 (1) Jan 25, 2014
Actually, there are more of these " broken bubbles" on the Martian surface, some a lot larger. Do they grow? Are they alive, or the product of some kind of mineralization process? So many questions...
Whydening Gyre
5 / 5 (1) Jan 25, 2014
I'm inclined to agree with @morpheal_productions. In the first image there is a circular impression embossed in the slab of stone where the "rock" appears, which looks to me like it may be the beginning of a fungal growth of some kind, which appears in the second image...

VERY similar to some stuff I have seen in containers in the back of my fridge...
Tessellatedtessellations
5 / 5 (1) Jan 26, 2014
I'm inclined to agree with @morpheal_productions. In the first image there is a circular impression embossed in the slab of stone where the "rock" appears, which looks to me like it may be the beginning of a fungal growth of some kind, which appears in the second image.


I snickered until I had another look at the pictures. The shape of the rock does appear to be imprinted on the rock it is sitting on. I cut out the area around the new rock and pasted it as a semitransparent layer on top of the old rock area. I used the perspective tool in Gimp to get the underlying rocks to fit. The effect is less striking that way, but still interesting. Perhaps the jelly doughnut is hiding from being grazed by the semi-invisible pink unicorn camouflaging itself against the martian sky?
Whydening Gyre
5 / 5 (1) Jan 26, 2014
I snickered until I had another look at the pictures. The shape of the rock does appear to be imprinted on the rock it is sitting on. I cut out the area around the new rock and pasted it as a semitransparent layer on top of the old rock area. I used the perspective tool in Gimp to get the underlying rocks to fit. The effect is less striking that way, but still interesting. Perhaps the jelly doughnut is hiding from being grazed by the semi-invisible pink unicorn camouflaging itself against the martian sky?

read a NASA article saying we were looking at the underside of a rock that has been, most likely, flipped over by the wheels of the rover. If so, I find the darker center a good starting point for consideration. If a rock, it provides a good indication of a weathering process.
However, that said, it's a much cooler concept to imagine it as a fungal type life-form. And not really not that far out of the box, when you actually think about it.
Whydening Gyre
5 / 5 (1) Jan 26, 2014
And Tess - your "moniker" made me smile.
Reminded me of the Ian Durry(?) song - "Decomposing Composers", for some reason. Of course, now it'll be stuck in my head all day...
flying_finn
not rated yet Jan 28, 2014
NASA just named a tird,
the_peckhams
not rated yet Feb 02, 2014
There are other pebbles (rocks) that appear to have moved and/or are missing at the bottom center of the picture. Now it may be lighting to some degree, but some are clearly no longer there.
Wolf358
not rated yet Feb 02, 2014
Next time we send a rover anywhere, let's add a few "plantable" stationary cameras, so if something like this comes up again, we can leave a dedicated camera pointed at it.
Whydening Gyre
not rated yet Feb 03, 2014
There are other pebbles (rocks) that appear to have moved and/or are missing at the bottom center of the picture. Now it may be lighting to some degree, but some are clearly no longer there.

Bumped away by the larger stone?

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