Mystery of Mars ‘doughnut rock’ solved

(H/T: via skepticwars)

Scientists are baffled by the sudden appearance of a jelly doughnut-like rock that the Opportunity rover spotted in January 2014. These are images of the same location; the rock on the right was not there 12 days earlier. Researchers now believe the rover's wheels flicked the rock into its current spot.

Scientists are baffled by the sudden appearance of a jelly doughnut-like rock that the Opportunity rover spotted in January 2014. These are images of the same location; the rock on the right was not there 12 days earlier. Researchers now believe the rover’s wheels flicked the rock into its current spot.

By Elizabeth Landau via CNN.com

(CNN) — The “jelly doughnut” rock that seemed to appear out of nowhere on Mars last month did not fall out of an extraterrestrial pastry box.

The rock had been mysterious to scientists because Mars rover Opportunity photographed it in a spot where the rock had not been present just four days earlier. Steve Squyres, lead scientist of the Mars Exploration Rover mission, described it as a white rock with a dark red low spot in the middle. The rock, more than 1.5 inches wide, was named Pinnacle Island.

So where did it come from, then?

Drumroll please:

mars-marvin-the-martianResearchers now say Pinnacle Island is a piece of a larger rock, which Opportunity broke and moved with its wheel in early January. Further images from the rover reveal the original rock that the rover’s wheel must have struck.

“Once we moved Opportunity a short distance, after inspecting Pinnacle Island, we could see directly uphill an overturned rock that has the same unusual appearance,” said Ray Arvidson of Washington University in St. Louis, deputy principal directory of Opportunity, in a statement. “We drove over it. We can see the track. That’s where Pinnacle Island came from.”

No, that’s not as exciting as if the rock had crawled into view on its own or been dropped there by aliens. But now that this puzzle has been solved, the rover team plans to drive Opportunity south and uphill to look at exposed rock layers on a slope.

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