Image Gallery: tiny odd linear features in Opportunity images (sol 3850)

Close-up view of the tiny "stick-like" objects from sol 3850. Photo Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Close-up view of the tiny linear “stick-like” objects from sol 3850. Photo Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

As the Opportunity rover nears the top of Cape Tribulation, it has been busy as usual examining the rocks it comes across. On sol 3850, a brushing of dust off one of the rocks showed some interesting details. What are the tiny linear “stick-like” objects in this Microscopic Imager view? Mineral fibers? Dislodged feldspar laths? Something else? The rock was not drilled, dust was just brushed off to see the rock surface better.

They do appear to be related to the brushing, as that was when they were revealed and dumped outside the brushed area, but look more like solid individual objects rather than clumps of dust particles stuck together. It will be interesting to see if anything else is reported about them.

Original image showing the odd features. Photo Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Original image showing the odd features. Brushed area of rock is from middle to lower right of image. Photo Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Paul Scott Anderson is a freelance space writer with a life-long passion for space exploration and astronomy. He started his blog The Meridiani Journal in 2005, which is a chronicle of planetary exploration. He also publishes The Exoplanet Report e-paper. In 2011, he started writing about space on a freelance basis, and now also currently write for AmericaSpace and Examiner.com. He has also written for Universe Today and SpaceFlight Insider, has been published in The Mars Quarterly and has done supplementary writing for the well-known iOS app Exoplanet for iPhone and iPad.

Image Gallery: Pillinger Point at Endeavour crater

View of Endeavour crater from Pillinger Point. Click for larger version. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/James Sorenson
View of Endeavour crater from Pillinger Point. Click for larger version. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/James Sorenson

The Opportunity rover continues to send back wonderful images of its current location on the rim of Endeavour crater. This new panorama shows the view from Pillinger Point (named after the late planetary scientist Colin Pillinger). The Pillinger Point rock outcrop is on the slopes Solander Point, one of the taller peaks on the rim of the huge crater. What a view! Thanks to James Sorenson who created this panorama from the Opportunity images. The full-size image is available here. There is also a zoomable Gigapan version here.

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Paul Scott Anderson is a freelance space writer with a life-long passion for space exploration and astronomy. He started his blog The Meridiani Journal in 2005, which is a chronicle of planetary exploration. He also publishes The Exoplanet Report e-paper. In 2011, he started writing about space on a freelance basis, and now also currently write for AmericaSpace and Examiner.com. He has also written for Universe Today and SpaceFlight Insider, has been published in The Mars Quarterly and has done supplementary writing for the well-known iOS app Exoplanet for iPhone and iPad.

Image Gallery: Mount Remarkable and Cape Tribulation

Mount Remarkable as seen by Curiosity on sol 603. Click for larger version. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / Damia Bouic
Mount Remarkable as seen by Curiosity on sol 603. Click for larger version. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / Damia Bouic

Two more great panoramic images from Damia Bouic, showing the current locations of the Curiosity and Opportunity rovers on Mars. The first from Curiosity is a view of Mount Remarkable, one of the three main buttes in The Kimberley region, where Curiosity will soon do more drilling to search for organics. In the second, Opportunity looks at the Cape Tribulation hills on the edge of Endeavour crater which it is continuing to travel towards in search of more clay minerals.

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Paul Scott Anderson is a freelance space writer with a life-long passion for space exploration and astronomy. He started his blog The Meridiani Journal in 2005, which is a chronicle of planetary exploration. He also publishes The Exoplanet Report e-paper. In 2011, he started writing about space on a freelance basis, and now also currently write for AmericaSpace and Examiner.com. He has also written for Universe Today and SpaceFlight Insider, has been published in The Mars Quarterly and has done supplementary writing for the well-known iOS app Exoplanet for iPhone and iPad.

About that ‘mystery rock’ on Mars: no it’s not a plant, but…

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

There has been a lot of discussion the past few days about that lawsuit filed against NASA for supposedly covering up / failing to investigate evidence of life on Mars by the Opportunity rover. This all has to do of course with that “mystery rock” found by Opportunity, nicknamed Pinnacle Island, which somehow just appeared near the rover (most likely dislodged and kicked up by one of the wheels) a few weeks ago.

The lawsuit is frivolous for various reasons (as others have already adequately shown), including the fact that the rover has taken numerous Microscopic Imager images of the rock, contrary to what has been alleged. And the rock does look like just that, a rock, not a growing fungus or other plant, unfortunately.

That said, this brings up an interesting possibility which hasn’t been mentioned much yet. The rock, as NASA has said, appears to have been flipped upside down from its original position (and mission scientists are still looking for the spot where it came from). That underside has a dark reddish coating of some kind in the middle area which, as known so far from the analysis done, contains large amounts of sulfur, magnesium and even higher amounts of manganese. The outer edges have a whitish coating, which has been seen before on other Martian rocks (at least looks similar). Hence why the rock has also been called a “jelly doughnut” – white around the circumference and dark red in the middle.

The enigmatic Pinnacle Island rock. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Stuart Atkinson
The enigmatic Pinnacle Island rock, looking rather out of place against the blander background. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Stuart Atkinson

It is isn’t know yet just what the darker material is, but the unusually larger amounts of manganese in particular is interesting. On Earth, desert varnish also has unusually high concentrations of manganese in it. That is the dark coating which often form on rocks in desert environments. Could this be something similar? It may well not be, but it’s worth consideration. And while desert varnish still isn’t fully understood, it is thought to form with the assistance of microbes. Such a find on Mars would be most interesting.

One could speculate even further and say that the dark material could be a form of microbial mat or other very lowly form of life, previously protected on the once-hidden underside of the rock. Less likely perhaps, but not impossible. Another recent study on Earth again showed how some forms of fungus or lichen could easily survive Martian conditions.

So the mystery rock is not life itself, and is “just a rock,” but perhaps might still provide clues to what kind of life could have existed on Mars in the past or even still today. The mystery rock may be only a rock, but it might just be a very interesting one.

This article was first published on Examiner.com.

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Paul Scott Anderson is a freelance space writer with a life-long passion for space exploration and astronomy. He started his blog The Meridiani Journal in 2005, which is a chronicle of planetary exploration. He also publishes The Exoplanet Report e-paper. In 2011, he started writing about space on a freelance basis, and now also currently write for AmericaSpace and Examiner.com. He has also written for Universe Today and SpaceFlight Insider, has been published in The Mars Quarterly and has done supplementary writing for the well-known iOS app Exoplanet for iPhone and iPad.

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.

Want more? Follow TMJ on TwitterFacebookGoogle+LinkedInPinterest and Instagram or
subscribe by rss or email to get the latest blog posts and other space news.

Paul Scott Anderson is a freelance space writer with a life-long passion for space exploration and astronomy. He started his blog The Meridiani Journal in 2005, which is a chronicle of planetary exploration. He also publishes The Exoplanet Report e-paper. In 2011, he started writing about space on a freelance basis, and now also currently write for AmericaSpace and Examiner.com. He has also written for Universe Today and SpaceFlight Insider, has been published in The Mars Quarterly and has done supplementary writing for the well-known iOS app Exoplanet for iPhone and iPad.

Opportunity rover continues trek towards clay ‘holy grail’

Looking ahead: Cape Tribulation and Solander Point beckon in the distance. Click for larger view. Credit: NASA / JLP-Caltech
Looking ahead: Cape Tribulation and Solander Point beckon in the distance. Click for larger version. Credit: NASA / JLP-Caltech

While Curiosity has been hogging a lot of attention lately, the Opportunity rover is still roving away elsewhere on Mars (since 2004!). Kind of like the Energizer bunny, it just keeps going and going and going…

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Paul Scott Anderson is a freelance space writer with a life-long passion for space exploration and astronomy. He started his blog The Meridiani Journal in 2005, which is a chronicle of planetary exploration. He also publishes The Exoplanet Report e-paper. In 2011, he started writing about space on a freelance basis, and now also currently write for AmericaSpace and Examiner.com. He has also written for Universe Today and SpaceFlight Insider, has been published in The Mars Quarterly and has done supplementary writing for the well-known iOS app Exoplanet for iPhone and iPad.

The strange Martian ‘newberries’ of Meridiani

Some of the "newberries" as seen by Opportunity on sol 3207. Click for larger view. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech.
Some of the “newberries” as seen by the Microscopic Imager on Opportunity on sol 3207. Click for larger view. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech.

With all of the attention that Curiosity has been getting, we might almost forget sometimes that there is still another rover elsewhere on the planet, Opportunity, which is still going strong – in its ninth year now!

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Paul Scott Anderson is a freelance space writer with a life-long passion for space exploration and astronomy. He started his blog The Meridiani Journal in 2005, which is a chronicle of planetary exploration. He also publishes The Exoplanet Report e-paper. In 2011, he started writing about space on a freelance basis, and now also currently write for AmericaSpace and Examiner.com. He has also written for Universe Today and SpaceFlight Insider, has been published in The Mars Quarterly and has done supplementary writing for the well-known iOS app Exoplanet for iPhone and iPad.