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.
Category Archives: Opportunity
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.
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.
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.
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?
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) 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.
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…
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!
When the Opportunity rover first landed on Mars in 2004, one of the first discoveries it made was that the ground was covered by tiny, round spherules up to a few millimetres in diameter. Also found imbedded in rock outcrops, they were an unexpected and fascinating surprise. What were they?
After extensive analysis by the rover, it was concluded by the scientists involved that they were concretions – little bb-like iron-oxide spherules similar to those found on Earth, notably those in the Navajo Sanstone deposits in Utah. The Martian ones also contain the mineral hematite, explaining the hematite signature seen in this region from orbit by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft.
See Examiner.com for the full article.
The Opportunity rover has moved on a bit from Kirkwood, the previous rock outcrop with the new type of spherules in it that the scientists have taken so much interest in. It is now examining another odd-looking feature, a rather flat exposure of rock just a little to the north. Nicknamed Whitewater Lake, it is much lighter in colour than the surrounding rocks and soil and has a surface texture not seen before, sort of like stucco or plaster of Paris. Could it also be water or clay related? Only further analysis will hopefully provide some answers.
Next to Whitewater Lake is another interesting rock, nicknamed Errington, which is split into at least three large pieces and appears to be covered with the same tiny spherules first seen a bit farther south on the Kirkwood rock outcrop.
Is there a connection between these very different types of rock outcrops? They look so different but are so close together. Are they related to the clay deposits in the area? We should know more soon… Thanks again to Stuart Atkinson for use of his excellent mosaic images.
Addendum: the day after this article was posted, an official report about these oddities was posted by NASA here. Interesting!
One of the most interesting discoveries made so far by the Opportunity rover on Mars has been the small round spherules or “blueberries” as they are commonly referred to, covering the ground at the rover’s landing site. Typically only a few millimetres across, some lie loose on the soil while others are imbedded in rock outcrops.
Analysis by Opportunity indicates that they are most likely a type of concretion, which are also found on Earth. These Martian concretions have been found to contain the mineral hematite, which explains its detection in this region from orbit, and one of the main reasons that the rover was sent to this location in Meridiani Planum in the first place. They are similar to the Moqui Marbles, iron-oxide concretions in the outcrops of Navajo Sanstone in Utah, which formed in groundwater.
Now, the rover (eight years later and still going!) has found what may be a different type of spherule. These ones generally resemble the previous ones, but are quite densely packed in an unusual rock outcrop that is on the eastern side of Cape York, the small island-like ledge on the rim of the huge Endeavour crater. With brittle-looking “fins” of material, the outcrop is an an area that from orbit has been identified as containing small clay deposits. There are also more substantial clay deposits farther south along Endeavour’s rim at the much larger Cape Tribulation, the next major destination of Opportunity.
See Universe Today for the full article.