Remember the “mystery rock” that appeared one day in front of NASA’s Opportunity Rover last month? Opportunity had been taking pictures of rocks at its location near the rim of Endurance Crater when it found a rock in an image that wasn’t there 12 days before.
Since rocks don’t suddenly materialize out of thin air, Mars Exploration Rover (MER) lead scientist Steve Squyres proposed two hypotheses: it could either be impact debris from a recent meteorite strike or, more likely, a rock that skipped off one of the rover’s wheels when it performed a turn in place at the location.
Because it appears that the rock has been flipped over to show its backside, scientists are using the opportunity to study the rock in detail. To date, many dozens of photos including closeups with Opportunity’s microscopic imager, have been taken.
That’s not good enough for eccentric astrobiologist Rhawn Joseph, who also contributes articles to the Journal of Cosmology, which publishes material way out on the edge of reality. He claims that NASA’s deliberately not investigating what he’s certain resembles a “mushroom-like fungus, a composite organism consisting of colonies of lichen and cyanobacteria, and which on Earth is known as Apothecium.”
How does he think he knows this? Again, from the lawsuit:
“Petitioner then magnified images of the same Martian outcrop, taken 12 Martian days
earlier (Sol 3528) and detected the presence of an identical structure, in miniature, in the same exact location, and in the same exact spot where the larger structure was photographed on Sol 3540. The structure, in miniature as depicted in Sol 3528, is obvious and resembles a fruiting body of a fungus which has just begun to germinate from spores.”
Joseph filed the lawsuit on Jan. 27 in California against NASA and its administrator James Bolden requesting that the agency “perform a public, scientific, and statutory duty which is to closely photograph and thoroughly scientifically examine and investigate a putative biological organism.”
While it’s beyond unlikely that it’s a mushroom, the rock, nicknamed the “jelly doughnut” because of its shape and a patch of red in its center, has made scientists rub their collective chin. Turns out that the “jelly” part is unlike any Mars rock examined before – it’s not only very rich in sulfur and magnesium but has twice the amount of manganese seen in anything before on the Red Planet. Hardly a reason to call it alive, but a stone most worthy of further study. Serendipity at its best.
Rhawn says the rock was there the whole time but appeared in later images once it grew big enough to see.
“The refusal to take close up photos from various angles, the refusal to take microscopic images of the specimen, the refusal to release high resolution photos, is inexplicable, recklessly negligent, and bizarre.”
Joseph is not seeking damages. He wants to compel NASA to “take 100 high resolution close-up in-focus photos of the specimen identiﬁed in Sol 3540, at various angles, from all sides, and from above down into the “bowl” of the specimen, and under appropriate lighting conditions which minimize glare. Take a minimum of 24 microscopic in-focus images of the exterior, lip, walls, and interior of the specimen under appropriate lighting conditions. NASA, and the rover team, must make public and supply Petitioner with all high resolution photos and images of that specimen.”
Good grief. Pity this frivolous lawsuit will waste time and money from real scientific work. We can only hope it will be tossed out.