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

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen on Monday.

NATO To Create New ‘Spearhead’ Force For Eastern Europe

NATO leaders are expected this week to set up a rapid-response force to defend against potential Russian aggression.


Kenneth Bae, an American tour guide and missionary serving a 15-year sentence in North Korea, speaks to The Associated Press on Monday. Bae and two other detained Americans urged the U.S. to send a high-level emissary to secure their release.

3 Americans Detained In North Korea Urge U.S. To Secure Their Release

The State Department said the men should be released out of humanitarian concern and asked that Kenneth Bae, who has been held for two years, be granted amnesty.


The Flight Of The Passenger Pigeon, Now 100 Years Extinct

Passenger pigeons were once the world’s most abundant bird, but they were also the cheapest protein available. The last passenger pigeon, Martha, died exactly a century ago at the Cincinnati Zoo.


British Prime Minister David Cameron told the House of Commons on Monday that he wants to give police the power to seize the passports of Islamist fighters bound for Iraq and Syria.

U.K. Seeks To Expand Terrorism Laws To Target British Fighters

Prime Minister David Cameron wants to give police the power to seize passports of Islamist fighters bound for Iraq and Syria. On Friday, Britain raised its threat level to “severe” from “substantial.”


The first edition of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and the original hero Golden Egg from the film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory on display at Profiles In History in Calabasas, northwest of downtown Los Angeles, on July 19, 2012.

For Anniversary, A New Chapter Of ‘Charlie And The Chocolate Factory’

The chapter describes the Vanilla Fudge Room, an extra room in the chocolate factory. In it, Charlie Bucket goes to the factory with his mother – not his grandfather. The book turns 50 this month.


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
Day Sponsorship Payments
Underwriting Payments