Jelly doughnut Martian rock mystery solved by NASA researchers reviewing film from the Opportunity Rover. The internet was thrown into wild speculation on January 8th after images were released of the same parch of ground in front of the rover, one without the rock, and one taken moments later with the strange stone came to stand in front of the rover, looking similar to a jelly doughnut, with white edges and deep red center. It would come to be known as Pinnacle Island and there were many theories of how it came to stand in front of Opportunity without anyone noticing, including fungal life forms, an impact via meteorite or other astral shrapnel, and even technical errors. But in the end, after months of theories and bated breath, NASA has revealed that Pinnacle Island is nothing more than a small piece of a rock that broke when the rover drove over it. The jelly doughnut portion was thrown forward into Opportunitys field of view by the wheel just after a photo was taken, creating the illusion that it had moved there itself, or had at least been thrown some distance.
The news is bittersweet, having the answer is nice but the mundane nature of the stone is a bit of a let down after the other exciting discoveries from Mars. Evidence of water, fossilized bacterium, and even a dune jump have made Mars exploration a hot topic of discussion in recent weeks, and it seems that many were expecting the trend of exciting news to continue. But now that the jelly doughnut Martian rock mystery is solved, more focus is being channelled to what the next big find will be, the key to consistent discovery is after all persistence and optimism. In a way the revelation is to be expected, and there is a lot of humour to be found in it. While earthlings were going crazy over what could have happened and spinning endless possible explanations, the wait for a concrete answer was stretched to ludicrous lengths by virtue the extreme distance the commands sent to Opportunity had to travel before the rover would react.
In the end the answer came when NASA simply backed the rover up a few feet to reveal the cracked rock the aluminium wheels had crawled over and the unmistakable track of the wheel running over and past it. A simple task, but one that held as much weight as it did anticipation. But the simple explanation for the origin of the stone was not without scientific merit, examining Pinnacle Island showed that it contained high levels of manganese and sulphur. These are water-soluble elements and their high concentrations within the stone indicate the action of flowing water. Scientists think this may indicate flowing water beneath the surface of Mars relatively recently, corroborating recent finds by Curiosity. With the jelly doughnut Martian rock mystery solved, Opportunity is now being turned towards the walls of a shallow canyon, where its team hopes to investigate the layers of stone and piece together the process of their formation.
By Daniel O’Brien