Tags: mars | mystery | rock | doughnut

Mars Mystery Rock, Shaped Like Doughnut, Puzzles NASA Scientists

Tuesday, 21 Jan 2014 07:44 AM

By Clyde Hughes

A rock shaped like a doughnut on Mars is puzzling scientists, who noticed the oddly shaped object in a NASA Opportunity rover's ground shot in December.

The Los Angeles Times reported that Opportunity photographed a barren outcropping of Mars in late December. Twelve days later, when the rover took a photo of the same area, the pastry-shaped rock popped up, seemingly appearing out of thin air.

"One of the things I like to say is Mars keeps throwing things at us," Steven Squyres, principal investigator for the Mars Exploration Rover Mission, said during a presentation about the Opportunity and the rover Spirit's first 10 years on the Red Planet.

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"It was a total surprise, we were like 'wait a second, that wasn't there before, it can't be right," Squyres added. "Oh my god! It wasn't there before!' We were absolutely startled." 

Squyres told Discovery News that scientists are kicking around two theories about the mystery rock. The rover could have flipped it during a maneuver, or the rock could have landed in front of the rover after a nearby meteorite hit. He said the first theory is more likely because Opportunity's front right steering actuator has stopped working.

"So my best guess for this rock … is that it's something that was nearby," Squyres told Discovery News. "I must stress that I'm guessing now, but I think it happened when the rover did a turn in place a meter or two from where this rock now lies."

The Opportunity continues to make new discoveries after landing on Mars on Jan. 24, 2004 in the Meridiani Planum. It has traveled 24 miles and returned more than 187,000 pictures of Earth's closest neighbor, according to NASA. 

The Opportunity's twin spacecraft, the Spirit, landed on Mars on Jan. 3, 2004 and was on Mars until March 2010. The Spirit traveled 4.8 miles in the Gusev Crater.

"I used to have this comforting notion that no matter how long the rovers last, at some point we would get to a stage in the mission where we could sit back and fold our arms and say to ourselves ... 'We did it ... we learned everything about Mars that we could with this vehicle, at this place,' " Squyres told the Los Angeles Times. "But Mars isn't like that."

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