Mars “mystery rock” mystery solved

The once-mystery rock – called Pinnacle Island – is shown near its mate Stuart Island alongside Opportunity rover tracks in this photo taken on Feb. 4, 2014. It showed up in front of the rover in an image taken on Jan. 8, 2014 at a location where the rock had been absent in an image taken four sols (Martian days) earlier. Click to enlarge. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

We all love a good mystery, but to be honest, many of us enjoy it even more when a mystery’s finally solved. The “jelly doughnut” Mars rock that mysteriously appeared in front of the Opportunity Rover on January 8 turns out to be a piece of a larger rock broken and moved by the rover’s wheels earlier that month.

The original rock, dubbed Stuart Island rests about 3 feet (1-meter) away and has a similar dark-red center and white edge as Pinnacle Rock.

“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 Opportunity Deputy Principal Investigator Ray Arvidson. “We drove over it. We can see the track. That’s where Pinnacle Island came from.”

A stereo version the first scene helps us to see the contours of the landscape. To see in 3-D, don a pair of those blue-red glasses. Click to enlarge. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Researchers used the microscopic imager and alpha particle X-ray spectrometer on Opportunity’s robotic arm to examine Pinnacle Island for several days in January. The rock is unusual in that it contains high levels of elements such as manganese and sulfur, suggesting these water-soluble ingredients were concentrated in the rock by the action of water.

There you have it. Now it’s time to move on to the next mystery: Why do people sue NASA for delusional claims of alien life on Mars?

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About astrobob

My name is Bob King and I work at the Duluth News Tribune in Duluth, Minn. as a photographer and photo editor. I'm also an amateur astronomer and have been keen on the sky since age 11. My modest credentials include membership in the American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO) where I'm a regular contributor, International Meteorite Collectors Assn. and Arrowhead Astronomical Society. I also teach community education astronomy classes at our local planetarium.

3 thoughts on “Mars “mystery rock” mystery solved

  1. Too me the real mystery is finding out the exact levels of the elements Manganese and sulfur. This is much more interesting than silly stuff.

  2. Sounds like a reasonable explanation. Obvious, almost.
    That picture sure looks a lot like my rustic stone and gravel driveway after the snow melts, and I’ve kicked up rocks like that with my snow tires.
    The snow blower hates those stones. I hope Opportunity brought lots of spare shear pins.
    Yet another earth analog to Mars!
    I’ve never seen aliens put rocks or mushrooms on my driveway, either.

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