It’s one of the most talked-about rocks in human history, and now it’s the basis of a lawsuit against NASA. Last month, a mysterious object appeared in photos taken by a Mars rover, Opportunity, on the surface of the planet. Scientists decided it was a rock and released a seemingly plausible explanation for how it came to be there. Science writer, Rhawn Joseph, disagrees. He thinks it’s an alien life-form and is taking legal action against the agency, which he accuses of ignoring life on Mars.
The debacle began in December when Opportunity photographed a small rock that hadn’t been there before. Known to NASA as Pinnacle Island, but to everyone else as “the jelly donut rock,” experts and amateurs were baffled at how the object had moved by itself on the uninhabited planet. The official explanation is that the rock became dislodged during Opportunity’s first pass through the area, a story which seems to be backed up by other photos.
Enter Rhawn Joseph Ph.D., founder of the Journal of Cosmology, who believes that Pinnacle Island is actually a mushroom. Furthermore, he believes that NASA has been negligent in its investigation of the object, and has begun legal proceedings to force the agency to investigate further. The California-based Joseph, who lists his job description as “astrobiologist” in the writ, believes that there is evidence in the photo to suggest that it is a mushroom-like fungus known as an apothecium.
In his lawsuit, Joseph says that the investigation of Pinnacle Island is “inexplicable, recklessly negligent, and bizarre.” He accuses NASA and the directors of the Opportunity project of ignoring the possibility of life on Mars, and is seeking to have the rover return to Pinnacle Island for a detailed investigation. The petition also requests that he be allowed to appoint two “astrobiologists” to the project, and that Joseph receive credit for the discovery of any alien life.
The scientific community has largely responded with derision to Joseph’s claims. Pinnacle Island, which was declared to be “unlike anything we’ve ever seen” by NASA, has been examined with Opportunity’s spectrograph, which confirmed that it is definitely a rock. The scan revealed that the rock contains unusual amounts of sulfur, magnesium and manganese, which in itself poses a mystery, though not an organic one.
Hunters of alien life are constantly monitoring data from NASA for evidence that humans are not alone. In 1976, photos from Viking 1 caused a frenzy when images of the Cydonia region of Mars seemed to show a giant human face. A global obsession with The Face on Mars thrived for more than 20 years, only to be dampened when 2001 images from the Mars Global Surveyor proved that the “face” was just an optical illusion.
More recently, eagle-eyed Google Moon users spotted what they believed was an artificial structure on the lunar surface. Skeptics say this is most likely an anomaly caused by Google’s photo-stitching methods, but that hasn’t stopped a video showing a close-up of the “structure” going viral.
The agency, meanwhile, seems not to be ignoring the possibility of life on Mars, regardless of any lawsuits pending on Earth. Last week NASA announced further findings that suggested that water may once have flowed on the surface of Mars, adding weight to the possibility that conditions may once have been suitable for life on the red planet.
By Bernard O’Leary