Mystery rock spotted on Mars, scientists miffed

Mystery rock spotted on Mars, scientists miffed

Posted: Updated:

(CNN) -- Did Mars rover Opportunity order a jelly doughnut?

Not quite, but scientists are baffled by a white rock with a dark red low spot in the middle that "just plain appeared at that spot" on the planet where the rover is situated, says Steve Squyres, lead scientist of the Mars Exploration Rover mission.

In recent weeks, Opportunity took photos of the same spot on Mars, 12 days apart. The rover's panoramic camera showed only barren bedrock on mission day 3528 (in Mars time), but on day 3540, a photo of the same scene revealed the mysterious, doughnut-shaped rock.

Squyres showed photos of this ghostly geological dessert at a recent NASA event celebrating 10 years since the Spirit and Opportunity rovers landed on Mars.

Spirit's mission ended in 2010 after losing the use of two wheels, and ceasing to communicate. But Opportunity is still chugging along and finding new surprises, such as this rock.

"One of the things I like to say is that Mars keeps throwing new things at us," Squyres said at the event, gesturing toward the rock photo and laughing.

The photos of the outcrop showing the absence, and then presence, of the pastry-sized rock were taken 12 days apart. The rover had not driven over that spot, Squyres said.

There are two leading theories about where the rock, called "Pinnacle Island," came from. Neither of them include the possibility of an intergalactic Dunkin' Donuts.

The most likely scenario is that Opportunity flicked the rock with one of its wheels.

"We had driven a meter or two away from here, and somehow maybe one of the wheels, kind of, managed to spit it out of the ground, and have it slide to this position," Squyres said.

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. Squyres doesn't think this is likely, however.

Opportunity is now studying the mystery rock more extensively, making measurements and taking pictures. Its instruments have shown scientists that the "jelly" part is "like nothing we've ever seen before," Squyres said. It's very high in sulfur and magnesium, and it has twice as much manganese as has ever been seen in anything on Mars.

No one knows what that means.

"We're completely confused, we're having a wonderful time, everyone on the team is arguing and fighting," Squyres said.

Spirit landed on January 4, 2004, followed by Opportunity on January 25, 2004. Their primary missions were designated for a mere 90 days, but both far outlasted that target.

Squyres said he used to think that no matter how long the rovers lasted, at some point there would be a point in the mission where the team could say "We're finished" -- that they had learned everything could about Mars with those particular vehicles.

But the Red Planet isn't like that.

"There will be something tantalizing, something wonderful just beyond our reach that we didn't quite get to, and that's the nature of exploration," he said.

Opportunity has otherwise encountered scientifically important phenomena during its decade of investigation. At Endeavor Crater, where it is today, the rover found clay minerals that form in watery conditions, and indicate that water with a neutral pH could have once been there, which would be conducive to microbial life if there had been any.

Endeavor has also unveiled veins of a mineral that appears to be gypsum, which is deposited by water.

Opportunity is not the only robot roaming Mars. NASA's 2-ton Curiosity rover, which landed in 2012, has an even more powerful suite of scientific instruments. Because of Curiosity's findings, NASA announced for the first time last year that life could have existed on Mars.

NASA is planning another rover mission in 2020 -- and that future robot could, possibly, collect samples that would later return to Earth for further study.

Such sophisticated technologies will help us see what other mysterious "sweets" the planet can deliver.

  • Top StoriesMore>>

  • Norman eyes new fund for flooding, drainage issues

    Norman eyes new fund for flooding, drainage issues

    Monday, July 28 2014 12:27 AM EDT2014-07-28 04:27:12 GMT
    In Norman, flooding isn't terribly unusual during rain.For a city who has a street named Flood Street, and another nicknamed "Lake McGee" for the drive that often floods, having a fund to take care of issues like drainage would be beneficial, city leaders say.
    In Norman, flooding isn't terribly unusual during rain.For a city who has a street named Flood Street, and another nicknamed "Lake McGee" for the drive that often floods, having a fund to take care of issues like drainage would be beneficial, city leaders say.
  • Norman emergency crews respond to near drowning - one person transported to hospital

    Norman emergency crews respond to near drowning - one person transported to hospital

    Sunday, July 27 2014 11:27 PM EDT2014-07-28 03:27:24 GMT
    There is a possible drowning at Lake Thunderbird. Norman emergency personnel are on the scene in the Turkey Creek Pass area of the lake.
    There is a possible drowning at Lake Thunderbird. Norman emergency personnel are on the scene in the Turkey Creek Pass area of the lake.
  • FOP President demonstrates how hot a car can get

    FOP President demonstrates how hot a car can get

    Sunday, July 27 2014 10:15 PM EDT2014-07-28 02:15:28 GMT
    EMSA calls it an unknown epidemic. Since May, paramedics in the metro have had more than 60 calls about kids being left in hot cars. The results can be deadly.To demonstrate just how much heat can affect the body John George, the president of the Oklahoma City Fraternal Order of Police, locked himself inside his SUV for 30 minutes Sunday.
    EMSA calls it an unknown epidemic. Since May, paramedics in the metro have had more than 60 calls about kids being left in hot cars. The results can be deadly.To demonstrate just how much heat can affect the body John George, the president of the Oklahoma City Fraternal Order of Police, locked himself inside his SUV for 30 minutes Sunday.
  • More HeadlinesMore>>

  • Radar captures mayfly swarm on Mississippi River

    Radar captures mayfly swarm on Mississippi River

    Sunday, July 27 2014 6:16 PM EDT2014-07-27 22:16:59 GMT
    MILWAUKEE (AP) -- Mayflies have begun emerging from the Mississippi River in swarms that show up on radar like thunderstorms, coat roads and other surfaces, and leave behind a slimy mess.
    MILWAUKEE (AP) -- Mayflies have begun emerging from the Mississippi River in swarms that show up on radar like thunderstorms, coat roads and other surfaces, and leave behind a slimy mess.
  • 3 days on, no arrests in hunt for carjack killers

    3 days on, no arrests in hunt for carjack killers

    Sunday, July 27 2014 4:05 PM EDT2014-07-27 20:05:12 GMT
    PHILADELPHIA (AP) -- The hunt for two Philadelphia carjackers who rammed their stolen SUV into a family, killing three children, has entered its third day, with investigators saying they're hopeful the suspects will soon be caught.
    PHILADELPHIA (AP) -- The hunt for two Philadelphia carjackers who rammed their stolen SUV into a family, killing three children, has entered its third day, with investigators saying they're hopeful the suspects will soon be caught.
  • Fast food workers vow civil disobedience

    Fast food workers vow civil disobedience

    Sunday, July 27 2014 12:34 PM EDT2014-07-27 16:34:24 GMT
    VILLA PARK, Ill. (AP) -- Fast food workers from across the country have voted in suburban Chicago to escalate their campaign for higher wages and union representation by including civil disobedience.
    VILLA PARK, Ill. (AP) -- Fast food workers from across the country have voted in suburban Chicago to escalate their campaign for higher wages and union representation by including civil disobedience.
ADVERTISEMENT
Bookmark and Share
  • FOX25 Slideshows

Most Popular

Stories
Videos
Compiling list...
  • FOX 25 FeaturesMore>>

  • Tell Me Something Good

    Tell Me Something Good

    Tired of all the bad news? Looking for some good news? Tell Me Something Good, does just that! FOX 25's Mike Brooks finds the good in Oklahoma and tells you all about it.
    Tired of all the bad news? Looking for some good news? Tell Me Something Good, does just that! FOX 25's Mike Brooks finds the good in Oklahoma and tells you all about it.
  • Waste Watch

    Waste Watch

    How are your tax dollars being spent? FOX 25 Waste Watch tracks whether local, state and federal governments, or any groups, are using your money wisely... or wasting it.
    How are your tax dollars being spent? FOX 25 Waste Watch tracks whether local, state and federal governments, or any groups, are using your money wisely... or wasting it.
Powered by WorldNow
Powered by 

WorldNow
All content © Copyright 2000 - 2014 WorldNow and KOKH. All Rights Reserved.
For more information on this site, please read our Privacy Policy and Terms of Service.