Nation & World News

Mars ‘Jelly Doughnut’ Mystery Solved: It’s Just A Rock, NASA Says

By Scott Neuman on February 15th, 2014

It appeared out of the red, like something dropped by a Martian Homer Simpson. But now NASA has an explanation for the “jelly doughnut” object photographed by the Opportunity rover in December.

First, here’s what it isn’t: It is not a fungus-like Martian organism, nor is it ejecta shot into the air by a nearby (and unseen) meteor impact.

Instead, it’s geologic roadkill. Basically.

“We drove over it,” Opportunity’s Deputy Principal Investigator Ray Arvidson said in a statement on Friday.

The whitish rock, with what looks suspiciously like a delicious red pastry filling, has been dubbed “Pinnacle Island” by researchers. In a set of before-and-after photos snapped by Curiosity’s onboard cameras, it’s first not there and then, suddenly, it is.

As The Los Angeles Times says:

“The small rock became a subject of worldwide interest soon after it was spotted Jan. 8 by Opportunity’s cameras. It was puzzling because it did not show up in images the rover took of the same location taken 12 days earlier.”

Many people on social media were simply having fun with the mystery, but to some it was a more serious matter. Rhawn Joseph, who describes himself as a neuroscientist and astrobiologist, went so far as to file a lawsuit against NASA last month, accusing the space agency of not doing its duty to fully investigate the possibility of life on Mars, calling its failure to release high-resolution photos of the object “recklessly negligent and bizarre.”

Joseph’s theory is that “Pinnacle Island” is actually “a fully grown bowl-shaped organism resembling Apothecia,” which are “a mixture of fungus and cyanobacteria.”

Whether you believe JPL’s explanation or not, the conclusion that it’s just a piece of Martian rock is a grand nod to William of Occam (c. 1287-1347), whose principle of parsimony — which has guided scientists for centuries — dictates that the simplest explanation is usually the correct one.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

This entry was posted in News from NPR. Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.

 

More Stories in News from NPR

A piece of a wing, apparently from a Boeing 777, has been found on Reunion, an island the Indian Ocean. It's not clear yet whether the debris from the Malaysia Airlines jet that disappeared from radar during a flight last year.

Debris In The Indian Ocean May Have Come From Vanished Airliner

A source tells NPR a piece of wing found on an island appears to be from a large passenger plane. Other media say sources link it to a Boeing 777 like the Malaysian jet that disappeared last year.


Michel Platini of Fance announced his campaign for FIFA president and is considered a strong candidate.

Michel Platini Is Running For President Of Scandal-Plagued FIFA

Currently the president of European soccer’s governing body and a FIFA vice president, he is considered a heavy favorite. The presidential contest follows a major corruption scandal.


A photo released by Virgin Galactic shows a badly injured SpaceShipTwo pilot Peter Siebold drifting under his parachute after last October's accident that destroyed the spacecraft during a test flight.

SpaceShipTwo ‘Pilot Was Thrown From The Vehicle’ High In Atmosphere

SpaceShipTwo broke apart soon after it reached supersonic speeds and an altitude of around 50,000 feet. Its pilot says his parachute opened in a “gentlemanly” fashion, after he had fallen for a while.


The Birkin Croco is made of dyed crocodile skin.

Birkin Bag Is Fine, But Namesake Actress Wants ‘Birkin Croco’ Rebranded

After seeing a video that PETA published on the treatment of crocodiles, Jane Birkin asks Hermes to remove her name from the line’s crocodile-skin version.


Mourners Shanicca Soloman cries in the embrace of friend Terrell Whitney outside funeral services for Samuel DuBose at the Church of the Living God in the Avondale neighborhood of Cincinnati on Tuesday.

University Of Cincinnati Police Officer Charged In Killing Of Unarmed Black Man

The Hamilton County Prosecutor said the shooting of Sam DuBose was “asinine” and “totally unwarranted.” Officer Ray Tensing, the prosecutor said, should have never been an officer.


Thank you for your support

WUFT depends on the support of our community — people like you — to help us continue to provide quality programming to North Central Florida.
Become a Sustainer
I want to support FM 89.1/NPR
I want to support Florida's 5/PBS
Donate a Vehicle
Underwriting Payments