March 24, 2023

NASA has determined where the mysterious jelly-doughnut rock on Mars came from

jelly-doughnut-rockBy Dina Spector

NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell Univ./Arizona State Univ./Business Insider

Attached image shows Pinnacle Island in the lower left corner and where the piece of rock had been before it appeared in front of the rover.

Scientists have confirmed that a strange-looking Mars rock, called “Pinnacle Island,” that suddenly and inexplicably popped up in a photograph taken by the Opportunity rover came from a larger piece of rock nearby. The larger rock, known as “Stuart Island,” was chipped by one of the rover’s wheels as it was turning around and then flicked a short distance to its new home.

Pinnacle Island is also known as the jelly-doughnut rock because it has a deep-red center and white trim — much like the dessert. The rock is about 1.5 inches wide, according to statement released by NASA on Friday, and came to rest about three feet from the original rock, which has similar coloring to the broken piece.

The small rock surprised scientists last month when it appeared in an image taken on Jan. 8, but not in an image of the same spot snapped 12 days earlier. At that time, the Opportunity rover’s principal investigator, Steve Squyres, noted that the composition of Pinnacle Island was unlike anything scientists had ever seen on Mars. Further examination of the stone has “revealed high levels of elements such as manganese and sulfur,” according to NASA, “suggesting these water-soluble ingredients were concentrated in the rock by the action of water.”

jelly-2A photo taken on Feb. 4 shows the rock where Pinnacle Island came from. It’s located slightly uphill from the jelly-doughnut rock and is sitting beside wheel tracks, which makes sense since the rover drove over the rock, broke it, and kicked a smaller piece down the hill.

Now that the mystery of where Pinnacle Island came from is solved (sorry, no Martians!), the rover team plans to drive Opportunity to a slope where it will examine layers of exposed rock, NASA said.

Attached are the original photos, taken 12 days apart, that illustrate the sudden appearance of the now famous jelly-doughnut rock.

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NASA’s MAVEN enters Mars orbit

afp-nasas-maven-enters-mars-orbitBy Kerry Sheridan, AFP From Business Insider

Scientists hope the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) probe will uncover clues as to how Mars became a dry, barren planet

Washington (AFP) – NASA’s MAVEN spacecraft began orbiting Mars on Sunday, on a mission to study how the Red Planet’s climate changed over time from warm and wet to cold and dry.

“Based on observed navigation data, congratulations. MAVEN is now in orbit,” said Dave Folta of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

The unmanned orbiter has traveled more than 10 months and 442 million miles (711 million kilometers) to reach Mars for a first-of-its kind study of the planet’s upper atmosphere.

The data from the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft aims to help scientists understand what happened to the water on Mars and the carbon dioxide in its atmosphere several billion years ago.

How Mars lost its atmosphere is one of science’s biggest mysteries. The answers could shed light on the planet’s potential to support life — even if that was just microbial life — long ago.

MAVEN’s findings are also expected to help add to knowledge of how humans could survive on a future visit to the Red Planet, perhaps as early as 2030.

“Mars is a cool place, but there is not much atmosphere,” said John Clarke, of the MAVEN science team.

“It is very cold, it is well below zero. The atmosphere is about half a percent of what we are breathing,” he added.

“But we know that Mars could change and it was probably different in the past. There is a lot of evidence of flowing water on the surface from Mars’s ancient history.”

– Mission begins –

Then, it begins a one-year mission of studying the gases in Mars’s upper atmosphere and how it interacts with the sun and solar wind.

Much of MAVEN’s year-long mission will be spent circling the planet 3,730 miles above the surface.

However, it will execute five deep dips to a distance of just 78 miles above the Martian landscape to get readings of the atmosphere at various levels.

NASA has sent several rovers and probes to Mars in recent years.

The US space agency’s latest robotic vehicle, Curiosity, is exploring Gale Crater and Mount Sharp, looking for interesting rocks and returning data on whether the Martian environment shows evidence of a past ability to support life.

Later this week, an Indian spacecraft, the Mars Orbiter Mission, will be on course to reach Mars.

The unmanned MOM probe is set to enter Mars’s orbit in the next few years after 10 months in space, marking India’s first mission to the planet to search for evidence of life.

IMAGE: Scientists hope the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) probe will uncover clues as to how Mars became a dry, barren planet


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