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>>

  • Oklahoma City police in high-speed chase with RV

    Oklahoma City police in high-speed chase with RV

    Thursday, April 24 2014 10:45 PM EDT2014-04-25 02:45:05 GMT
    The Oklahoma City Police have taken two people into custody after pursuing a white RV across the city.The pursuit began shortly before 8:00 p.m. Thursday when an officer spotted felony suspect in the the RV, police said. The RV took off going east bound on I-40 from the west side of Oklahoma City. The pursuit continued east on I-40 to I-35 then north to the Kilpatrick Turnpike. Speeds went over the limit at times. The pursuit ended near Northwest Expressway and the Kilpatrick Turnpike about 8...
    The Oklahoma City Police have taken two people into custody after pursuing a white RV across the city.The pursuit began shortly before 8:00 p.m. Thursday when an officer spotted felony suspect in the the RV, police said. The RV took off going east bound on I-40 from the west side of Oklahoma City. The pursuit continued east on I-40 to I-35 then north to the Kilpatrick Turnpike. Speeds went over the limit at times. The pursuit ended near Northwest Expressway and the Kilpatrick Turnpike about 8...
  • Stillwater Group Providing Dresses For Girls Around The World

    Stillwater Group Providing Dresses For Girls Around The World

    Thursday, April 24 2014 10:40 PM EDT2014-04-25 02:40:04 GMT
    "We just thought it'd be so nice for those children to have something to play with." Gail Metcalf is the founder of the Stillwater chapter of Dress A Girl Around The World, a non-profit group dedicated to providing new dresses for children in need.
    "We just thought it'd be so nice for those children to have something to play with." Gail Metcalf is the founder of the Stillwater chapter of Dress A Girl Around The World, a non-profit group dedicated to providing new dresses for children in need.
  • Attorney General Eric Holder cancels appearance at OKCPD graduation

    Attorney General Eric Holder cancels appearance at OKCPD graduation

    Thursday, April 24 2014 6:53 PM EDT2014-04-24 22:53:30 GMT
    Amid promises of protest, United States Attorney General Eric Holder canceled his planned appearance Thursday in front of graduating recruits at the Oklahoma City Police Department.
    Amid promises of protest, United States Attorney General Eric Holder canceled his planned appearance Thursday in front of graduating recruits at the Oklahoma City Police Department.
  • More HeadlinesMore>>

  • Texas mom saves 2-year-old from pit bull by biting dog's ear

    Texas mom saves 2-year-old from pit bull by biting dog's ear

    Thursday, April 24 2014 6:10 PM EDT2014-04-24 22:10:48 GMT
    In a backyard in Alvin, swings a very lucky girl. Her name is Mackenzi Plass, or Kenzi for short, and she survived a dog attack.

    "She'll be two and a half in May," said her very proud mother Chelsi Camp. "She's doing great. You wouldn't know it if you couldn't see."
    In a backyard in Alvin, swings a very lucky girl. Her name is Mackenzi Plass, or Kenzi for short, and she survived a dog attack.

    "She'll be two and a half in May," said her very proud mother Chelsi Camp. "She's doing great. You wouldn't know it if you couldn't see."
  • Red Cross gives $48,000 for storm shelters

    Red Cross gives $48,000 for storm shelters

    Thursday, April 24 2014 4:19 PM EDT2014-04-24 20:19:18 GMT
    The American Red Cross of Oklahoma is giving $48,000 to Central Oklahoma Habitat for Humanity to install storm shelters in the homes it builds.
    The American Red Cross of Oklahoma is giving $48,000 to Central Oklahoma Habitat for Humanity to install storm shelters in the homes it builds.
  • Michigan man among first in US to receive 'bionic eye'

    Michigan man among first in US to receive 'bionic eye'

    Thursday, April 24 2014 12:04 PM EDT2014-04-24 16:04:34 GMT
    In this April 16, 2014 image from video Roger Pontz wears special glasses that house a small video camera and transmitter at the University of Michigan Kellogg Eye Center on April 16, 2014, in Ann Arbor, Mich. (AP Photo)In this April 16, 2014 image from video Roger Pontz wears special glasses that house a small video camera and transmitter at the University of Michigan Kellogg Eye Center on April 16, 2014, in Ann Arbor, Mich. (AP Photo)
    A degenerative eye disease slowly robbed Roger Pontz of his vision.

    Diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa as a teenager, Pontz has been almost completely blind for years. Now, thanks to a high-tech procedure that involved the surgical implantation of a "bionic eye," he's regained enough of his eyesight to catch small glimpses of his wife, grandson and cat.
    A degenerative eye disease slowly robbed Roger Pontz of his vision.

    Diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa as a teenager, Pontz has been almost completely blind for years. Now, thanks to a high-tech procedure that involved the surgical implantation of a "bionic eye," he's regained enough of his eyesight to catch small glimpses of his wife, grandson and cat.
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.