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.
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.
Although the Curiosity rover has been in the limelight the past few weeks, and for good reason, elsewhere on Mars the Opportunity rover continues its studies of the region around the rim of the huge Endeavour crater. Yes, she’s still there!
The rover is now in an area where clays have been identified from orbit, a prime target of the rover, as clays indicate a past watery environment which was non-acidic (ph neutral). It isn’t known exactly what these deposits might look like on the ground, but the rover is now investigating an interesting-looking outcrop of darker rock right in one of the clay deposit areas. Does it contain some of the long-sought clays? We don’t know yet, but it is still a curious-looking outcrop even if it doesn’t. It’s a mix of thin “fin-like” pieces, similar to others seen before in other locations, and other blocky chunks. Appearance-wise, it resembles dry, eroding clays on Earth.
The images in this post are courtesy of Stuart Atkinson, who does excellent work of stitching together individual images sent by the rover into more complete mosaics. Click on the two panoramas for larger versions. The last image is a 3-D anaglyph, so if you have 3-D glasses or other software, you can view it in even more realistic detail.
The Opportunity rover continues to explore Cape York, on the edge of the huge Endeavour crater, and has now arrived at a curious feature that many interested people have been wanting to see close-up – Whim Creek.
Whim Creek, as it is nicknamed, is a wedge-shape “cut” in the northern edge of Cape York. Whether it is a tectonic, impact or fluvial feature, or something else, isn’t known yet. There should be more images over the next few days as well.