Screenshot from Steve Squyres presentation celebrating 10 years of the Mars Exploration Rovers. A rock suddenly appeared where there was none 12 sols earlier.

The Rock that Appeared Out of Nowhere on Mars

17 Jan , 2014 by

During last night’s celebration at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory of ten years of the Mars Exploration Rovers, mission principal investigator Steve Squyres shared several stories about the exploration and discoveries made by the rovers Spirit and Opportunity since they landed on Mars in 2004. An intriguing recent mystery is a strange rock that suddenly appeared in photos from the Opportunity rover in a spot where photos taken just 12 sols earlier showed no rock.

“One of the things I like to say is that Mars keeps throwing new things at us,” Squyres deadpanned.

A colorized version of the rock called Pinnacle Island. Credit: NASA/JPL, color by Stuart Atkinson.

A colorized version of the rock called Pinnacle Island. Credit: NASA/JPL, color by Stuart Atkinson.

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,” he said. “And it appeared. It just plain appeared and we haven’t driven over that spot.”

They’ve named it “Pinnacle Island,” and the team is contemplating a few ideas of why the rock mysteriously showed up.

“One theory is that we somehow flicked it with a wheel,” Squyres said. “We had driven a meter or two away from here and somehow maybe one of the wheels managed spit it out of the ground. That’s the more likely theory.”

The other?

“The other theory is that there might be a smoking hole in the ground nearby and this may be crater ejecta. But that one is less likely,” Squyres said.

Another idea suggested by others is that it may have tumbled down from a nearby rock outcrop.

Image from Sol 3528 of the area showing no rock. Click to see original on the rover's raw image website. Credit: NASA/JPL.

Image from Sol 3528 of the area showing no rock. Click to see original on the rover’s raw image website. Credit: NASA/JPL.

Image of same area on Sol 3540 where the 'jelly donut' rock appears. Click to see original. Credit: NASA/JPL.

Image of same area on Sol 3540 where the ‘jelly donut’ rock appears. Click to see original. Credit: NASA/JPL.

But as intriguing as the sudden appearance of the rock is what the team is finding out about it.

“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. “The jelly part is like nothing we’ve seen before on Mars. It’s very high in sulfur and magnesium and it has twice as much manganese as anything we’ve seen before. I don’t know what any of this means. We’re completely confused, everybody on the team is arguing and fighting. We’re having a wonderful time!”

But that’s the beauty of this mission, Squyres said.

“I used to have this comforting notion that at some point, we could sit back and say ‘we did it, we’re finished, we’ve learned everything we could about this location.’ But Mars is not like that. It keeps throwing new things at us.”

“And what I’ve come to realize,” Squyres concluded, ” – and it was true when we lost Spirit and it will be true when we lose Opportunity — there will always be something tantalizing just beyond our reach that we just won’t get to. That’s just the nature of exploration, and I feel so very fortunate to have been part of this mission.”

You can watch the entire replay of the celebration below, and read a great look back at the past 10 years from Stuart Atkinson’s Road to Endeavour blog.



Video streaming by Ustream

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doctrsnoop
Member
doctrsnoop
January 17, 2014 2:39 PM

I like to think that Martian children are hiding behind the camera and messing with us.

Aqua4U
Member
January 17, 2014 3:49 PM

~%@; )

Aqua4U
Member
January 17, 2014 2:48 PM

Eeyup… a wheel can spit a rock, who hasn’t seen that happen? The wheels on Curiosity definitely look like they’d spit rocks! Bet it was the middle wheel on the same side? The team should take more pics of all six wheels! Remember when Spirit dragged a wheel and discovered ‘pay dirt’? Maybe Curiosity did too? SPLIT that rock wide open!

Windfall
Member
Windfall
January 17, 2014 3:08 PM

Possibly true, though it’s the Opportunity rover, not Curiosity, that this article concerns. I’m curious about the “jelly” portion being so high in sulfur and magnesium may mean.

Aqua4U
Member
January 17, 2014 3:46 PM

Yer right! My bad… senior moment? Oppy rocks! That’s what I get for jumping around in 4 or 5 windows…

Aqua4U
Member
January 17, 2014 4:22 PM

NOW am thinking about the missing Methane gas signatures in the Martian atmosphere.. and assuming those organisms exist on a far removed cycle of reproduction. Some biological functions taking years or decades, even centuries?

Aqua4U
Member
January 17, 2014 4:29 PM

Time slowed down by the cold… so cold.

Hawk
Guest
Hawk
January 17, 2014 2:58 PM

Has no one considered the possibility that this is simply a meteorite?!

pahles
Member
January 17, 2014 3:08 PM

Wouldn’t that have left a crater?

Hawk
Guest
Hawk
January 17, 2014 3:33 PM

Not necessarily. Especially as it looks small. I have seen meteorites on Earth, simply sitting on the ground with no crater.

pahles
Member
January 17, 2014 3:36 PM

But where those ‘new’ meteorites?

Hawk
Guest
Hawk
January 17, 2014 3:42 PM

Are you asking “were” they new? Unknown. I have dug around and seen no evidence of an old crater.

pahles
Member
January 17, 2014 3:46 PM

Yes, ‘were’, sorry. Okay, sounds plausible…

Denver
Member
Denver
January 18, 2014 11:05 AM

I assume you are in North America.

The North American tektite strewn field
http://theepistlesofpaul.blogspot.com/2010/09/known-tektite-strewn-fields-north.html

Hawk
Guest
Hawk
January 18, 2014 11:24 PM

I am nowhere near that distribution of tektite, and the specimens I have found, fully exposed, are not tektite. I do own some tektite from various sources, and they are not similar.

Aqua4U
Member
January 17, 2014 4:42 PM

On Mars too.. as witnessed by Spirit and Opportunity.

Hawk
Guest
Hawk
January 18, 2014 11:28 PM

Yes. smile

thomas tinling
Guest
thomas tinling
January 21, 2014 3:27 AM

One particular shot had three different meteorite examples. They were grouped together with the large crystalline nickel boulder from the first rover mission.

Denver
Member
Denver
January 18, 2014 11:02 AM

The meteorites washed out of the dirt underlying strata.

Hawk
Guest
Hawk
January 18, 2014 11:25 PM

Good theory, except we are talking about a meteorite that appeared on the surface rather suddenly with no signs of a crater, or any erosion around the object. I have seen both stony and ferric meteorites sitting on the surface with no signs of having eroded out of the soil. These meteorites were fully exposed and not fully, or partially (not even 1%) buried in surrounding earth. Two of them were in locations I frequent, and just like the mysterious object on Mars, were NOT there just weeks earlier, and no sign of any crater or impact due to their small size.

Denver
Member
Denver
January 18, 2014 11:33 PM

No.

We are talking about, “I have seen meteorites on Earth, simply sitting on the ground with no crater.”

Hawk
Guest
Hawk
January 18, 2014 11:57 PM

Yes, and how do you explain a meteorite sitting where no meteorite was, a few weeks ago? Not washing out of surrounding sediments (erosion.)

Denver
Member
Denver
January 19, 2014 12:25 AM

Distal ejecta.

Given the circumstances, either ejecta or a meteor dropped in, slowly.

Hawk
Guest
Hawk
January 19, 2014 1:07 PM
I said we are talking about the object on Mars, and I was expressing how small meteorites can land on the surface without a crater. You said “no,” and stated we are talking about “I have seen meteorites on Earth, simply sitting on the ground with no crater.” Ejecta is not usually comprised of actual whole meteorites shaped by their entry into gaseous atmosphere. Ejecta is comprised mostly of the native rock which has been displaced by the force of a high-energy meteorite impact. The ejecta doesn’t necessarily contain fragments of the meteorite which caused the impact, but when it does, the odds are, they are mere fragments. The earth-bound meteorites I am discussing are not likely to… Read more »
Denver
Member
Denver
January 19, 2014 1:21 PM
I still say “no”. Your discovery of meteorites on the ground has nothing to do with the Mars’ rock in the article. The meteorites you found on Earth are almost all distal ejecta and have eroded out of the underlying strata, just as fossils do, for instance. Of course they were part of a crater’s formation but that formation could be on the other side of the planet. Only 12 terrestrial meteor craters have meteorites associated with the crater. The rock on Mars is either ejecta from a recent impact, or less likely, a rock that just fell from the sky at no more than Martian terminal velocity. You need a primer. It will help your understanding. Don’t… Read more »
DiogenesRedux
Guest
DiogenesRedux
January 24, 2014 1:41 PM

Like I said,Poddy is messing with you. Or, it’s just the end of a bounce, having hit elsewhere.

DiogenesRedux
Guest
DiogenesRedux
January 24, 2014 1:39 PM

But, they “bounced” to their final destination where you saw them.

Aqua4U
Member
January 17, 2014 4:35 PM

Mmm… could be. Look up MgS in meteors I see that, Yes! https://www.google.com/#q=Magnesium+Sulphide+in+meteors%3F+

Guest
Guest
Guest
January 17, 2014 5:09 PM

Stupid time travelers mucking up the trace…

Hawk
Guest
Hawk
January 17, 2014 9:49 PM

wink Thank you!

Denver
Member
Denver
January 18, 2014 11:03 AM

Possibly ejecta from a newly formed crater?

Hawk
Guest
Hawk
January 18, 2014 11:25 PM

Perhaps.

thomas tinling
Guest
thomas tinling
January 21, 2014 3:32 AM

Or possibly deposited by a passing dirt devil. Wind cannot be ruled out.

moozoo
Member
moozoo
January 17, 2014 6:11 PM

Of course the real mystery will be when it disappears a day later smile

Jesse Federico
Guest
Jesse Federico
January 17, 2014 10:37 PM

You look like George Clooney from here.

2eurocents
Member
2eurocents
January 17, 2014 6:41 PM

I wonder how long before conspiracy theorists and just exotic thinkers discover this thread. Well, they do bring clicks, don’t they.

Arnold Rimmer
Member
Arnold Rimmer
January 17, 2014 8:05 PM

It’s already picked up by the tabloids in my country. “Not very” surprisingly they fail to mention any of Steve Squyres’ possible explinations. . .

Hawk
Guest
Hawk
January 18, 2014 11:45 PM

Too late. razz

somejackball
Guest
January 17, 2014 6:42 PM
Halil Özgür
Guest
Halil Özgür
January 17, 2014 7:39 PM

Reminds me of…

Aqua4U
Member
January 17, 2014 8:03 PM

2nd’s and 3rd’s? Placed there by an alien entity smart enough to know when the cameras weren’t imaging? Or perhaps by a time traveler as a practical joke?

skipdallas
Member
skipdallas
January 18, 2014 10:50 AM

In “Pandora’s Star” by Peter F Hamilton: Man’s first landing and footsteps on Mars were interrupted by an eccentric scientist that discovered wormholes and how to harness them for travel. The scene was hilarious, and the book itself is a good read.

Jesse Federico
Guest
Jesse Federico
January 17, 2014 10:28 PM

Probably just a piece of a small meteorite that impacted close by, either that or it broke off from a collision between two larger asteroids, or from ejecta on an outer solar system moon (impact?) and by some one in a billion (billion billion?) chance just happened to land and then roll to that spot. That’s my idea. If that’s not the case, I’d gladly accept a crazier explanation.

Hawk
Guest
Hawk
January 18, 2014 11:45 PM

Yes, I proposed the meteorite idea a few hours earlier. I am glad to see someone else who agrees! No matter the cause of the trajectory that brought it there, I really think the meteorite theory is the most logical yet.

Jesse Federico
Guest
Jesse Federico
January 19, 2014 1:25 PM

Yes I saw it before writing my post and I fully agree, the meteorite theory is indeed the most logical in my mind.

x jeremy jarratt
Guest
January 18, 2014 12:03 AM

OBVIOUSLY, it was there all along, until it got picked up by a Spican Time-Rider from the Mind Dimension earlier on. Most likely needed it to repair its gravity drive.

GouldyLox
Guest
GouldyLox
January 18, 2014 2:37 AM

It’s a chewing gum wrapper

Per
Guest
Per
January 18, 2014 3:08 AM

On the ‘before’ picture, there is a formation with the same shape as the rock in the ‘after’ picture, at almost the exact position of the rock, only it’s colored the same as the underlying rock…

EagleUK
Member
EagleUK
January 18, 2014 4:54 AM

It seems as though no one else is listening, but I think that you are right. Do you think that the “rock” may be some type of material that came out of the underlying rock along the lines that you indicated?

Per
Guest
Per
January 18, 2014 2:41 PM

I really don’tknow, I just noticed the shape of the rubble on the before picture is the same as the rock in the after picture. I’m inclined to think this is a hoax. The ‘rock’ is rather odd-looking anyway, and the chance of it having the same shape (including the internal ’round dent’) as the underlying rubble is just incredible.

..
Guest
..
January 18, 2014 10:33 AM

Couldn’t be the same structure we can see on the previous picture. I suppose that the light conditions are different (at least the first picture seems darker) en the darkest spot on the first location is becoming the brightest on the second. Maybe we are looking to far for searching an explanation.

Prime
Member
Prime
January 18, 2014 12:25 PM

It was airbrushed and photo-cropped in, so it appears. NASA is famous for their airbrushing of pictures on Mars.

Richard Kirk
Member
Richard Kirk
January 18, 2014 4:26 PM
i thought that at first. The first image has what looks like a trapezoid crack or trench, and the second one has a similar trapezoid doughnut. It seems odd that a wheel should chuck up a rock that is the same shape. The third photo is helpful. It is a pity we don’t have a ‘before’ picture that is as good. What we have now looks less like a Krispy Kreme, and more like half of an egg sandwich, with something dark growing on it, rather than a hole. Back to the original images, you can see the new rock is in a different place, to the left of the original crack; it overlaps the top edge of… Read more »
doctorjah
Member
doctorjah
January 20, 2014 4:29 PM
I noticed that, too. But as someone else says, the rock is not in exactly the same place: you can see the sort of pincer-shaped pattern in the before picture sticking out underneath it. I also notice that the underside of the rock is colored similarly to the surface in the area. This seems consistent with the idea that the rock was kicked up by the rover’s wheels and ended up inverted, with the white part being the part that was underground and unexposed before it was kicked up. (And I can’t help but point out the cross (or is it the letter “h” or some Chinese character?) above and to the right of the rock in the… Read more »
Robert Ruffner
Guest
Robert Ruffner
January 18, 2014 9:03 AM

Ice flower,Martian style,pushed up by the weight of the Rover?

caw
Member
caw
January 18, 2014 10:42 AM

A great granddaddy blue berry muffin kicked up by the rover! Find the other half! Funny if this turned out to be one of the most significant finds of the mission.

pericles21
Guest
pericles21
January 18, 2014 12:53 PM

Piece of a crumpled dollar bill – is there a trace of green-ink printing i see?

travelstickcouk .
Guest
January 18, 2014 4:24 PM
UFOsMOTHER
Member
UFOsMOTHER
January 18, 2014 11:11 PM

Looks like a living creature that moved there in the same way our star fish move ,who knows this could be the shape of life on Mars……..

Odd1
Guest
Odd1
January 19, 2014 6:05 PM

Pet rock!

Brian Petrunak
Guest
Brian Petrunak
January 19, 2014 7:03 PM

that’s not a rock. it’s clearly a piece of martian skull. or maybe it’s just a rock. but probably not.

John Mackie
Guest
John Mackie
January 19, 2014 11:07 PM

My God. it’s full of stars!

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