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

Juan Pablo Montoya, of Colombia, celebrates after winning the 99th running of the Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Sunday.

Juan Pablo Montoya Wins Second Indy 500

The Columbian native came from dead last to finish first. He won the event in 2000 as a rookie.


Defense Secretary Carter: Iraqi Forces Lack ‘Will To Fight’ ISIS

Ash Carter, in an interview on CNN, said that the ISF lost Anbar despite “vastly outnumbering” fighters of the self-declared Islamic State.


Malaysia Finds Gravesites In Camps Used By People Smugglers

The gruesome discovery of the sites thought to contain dozens or possibly hundreds of remains of migrants from Myanmar and Bangladesh, follows a similar find this month across the border in Thailand.


Princeton University professor John Nash speaks during a news conference at the university in Oct. 1994 after being named the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize for economics.

‘Beautiful Mind’ Mathematician John Nash, Jr. Dies In New Jersey Car Crash

The Nobel Prize winner who struggled with schizophrenia and was portrayed by Russell Crowe in the 2001 film, died with his wife in a taxi on the New Jersey Turnpike, officials say. He was 86.


Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras (center) gestures next to Deputy Prime Minister Yannis Dragasakis (left) and Interior and Administrative Reconstruction Minister Nikos Voutsis. Voutsis says Greece may miss its next debt payment.

Greece Warns That It Will Probably Miss Next Month’s Debt Payment

Interior Minister Nikos Voutsis says a $1.76 billion payment due next month “will not be given and is not there to be given.”


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