What is this mystery rock that ‘appeared’ near the Opportunity rover on Mars?

The enigmatic Pinnacle Island rock. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Stuart Atkinson

The enigmatic Pinnacle Island rock. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Stuart Atkinson

There is another little Martian mystery that has people talking this week – the odd appearance a few days ago of a small rock a few feet away from the Opportunity rover, it was announced yesterday during the Opportunity: 10 Years on Mars event at NASA.

The rock, nicknamed Pinnacle Island, wasn’t in images taken on sol 3528, but was in images taken of the same spot later on sol 3540. How did it get there and where did it come from?

Comparison image showing the before and after photos of the mystery rock "Pinnacle Island." The after image is the same patch of ground as in the inset box in the before image. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Jason Major

Comparison image showing the before and after photos of the mystery rock “Pinnacle Island.” The after image is the same patch of ground as in the inset box in the before image. Click for larger view. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Jason Major

As principal investigator for the mission, Steve Squyres, explained, the rock is whitish in colour, about the size of a doughnut with a darker spot (“jelly”) in the middle area, which has a concave or hollowed-out appearance. The finding sparked questions and theories ranging from a nugget either left there by a nearby meteor impact or deposited somehow by the rover’s wheels. Squyres thinks the wheel idea is much more likely than the random chance of a meteor happening to hit that close to the rover’s location. Are there any other possibilities?

Microscopic Imager (MI) closeup view of Pinnacle Island showing the whitish colouring around the edges and the darker appearing "jelly" interior.

Microscopic Imager (MI) closeup view of Pinnacle Island showing the whitish colouring around the edges and the darker appearing “jelly” interior. Click for larger view. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Microscopic Imager (MI) photos have also been taken of the object and analysis so far of the darker “jelly” has shown it to be rich in sulfur, magnesium and manganese (with twice as much manganese as any other rock examined before by the rover). It is thought that the rock has been flipped over, exposing its underside.

A fascinating mystery that is sure to keep the mission scientists busy for a while.

Thanks also to Jason Major and Stuart Atkinson for use of their complementary images.

This article was first published on Examiner.com.

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10 Thoughts on “What is this mystery rock that ‘appeared’ near the Opportunity rover on Mars?

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  3. So they can’t find the divot that matches this rock? That’s strange all by itself. Incidentally, this is the only site that I could find that has the closeup image of Pinnacle Island. I wish we could see it closeup and in color. The material at the center sure does look rather “granular” like soil or maybe even fungus. And the “hollowed out” appearance is really interesting too.

    On a completely different note: It’s confusing as to -which- rover actually discovered this. People default to Curiosity when in fact this is from the now *10* year old Opportunity. What a rugged little bugger!

  4. They haven’t seen anything like it anywhere else on mars. So it may not be there for long.I think the the rover should monitor this object for awhile and watch for any changes.

  5. Anonymous on January 23, 2014 at 1:30 pm said:

    I bet it was caused by comet Ison. Sure is funny now how me pictures and videos they are sending in from Mars. Where was all that video and pictures at on October 1, 2013 when Ison passed very close to Mars

  6. Billy Joe on January 23, 2014 at 12:12 pm said:

    I am surprised that this discovery has not generated more discussion. There have been some who have observed that it is very much like some fungus on Earth.

    This is almost exactly what you would expect to find in a silicon based life form that evolved to survive in a resource poor environment. Earlier on Mars there was water and a greenhouse gas, ammonia. When the magnetic field shielding was lost only things that could survive in the more hostile environment would survive. Silicon based forms using an ammonium solvent system could survive at lower temperature and higher radiation levels. Sulfur based reactions as we see in the deep ocean vents as energy sources here on earth would explain the concentrations of sulfur. Manganese and magnesium along with the abundant iron are logical building blocks. Silicon and other minerals that we associate with rocks make this life form much like a rock so it looks like a rock on the outside.

    In a harsh environment it may take thousands of years for a life form to reach this size. Loss of fluid in the expanded form means that the time in this form must be limited. The more compact form is also better able to withstand radiation.

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  8. Anonymous on January 20, 2014 at 3:41 pm said:

    Appears to be the same general shape in the first photograph. Round shaped rock in the center of indentation in Sol 3528 looks like it was cracked open possibly by being run over. Appears semi-hollow in Sol 3540, with top section crushed and bottom section intact.
    That, or it could be a dinosaur egg hatched…lol! Anyone for a good sci-fi story?

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