On Mars, A Rock Appears Where There Wasn't One Before

Nicknamed Pinnacle Island, a fist-sized rock appeared in front of the Mars rover Opportunity a few days ago, and NASA isn't sure where it came from.

Scientists overseeing the Mars rover Opportunity, which landed on the red planet 10 years ago this month, are baffled by their latest discovery: a small rock.

Nicknamed Pinnacle Island, the fist-sized rock first appeared in front of the rover a few days ago, but earlier panoramic images of the area showed bare bedrock--no sign of the object before.

"It was a total surprise, we were like ‘wait a second, that wasn’t there before, it can’t be right. Oh my god! It wasn’t there before!’ We were absolutely startled," NASA Mars Exploration Rover lead scientist Steve Squyres told Discovery News.

Photographs of the site from two different sols, or Martian days. The one on the left, from sol 3528, shows bedrock, while sol 3540 features the mysterious rock.Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Because Opportunity hadn't rolled over that area with its six wheels, NASA is currently trying to figure out where Pinnacle Island came from. There are two prominent theories: that the rover flipped the rock or that it landed there after a nearby meteorite impact (the latter is considered less likely).

Squyres hypothesizes that it was Opportunity's doing because it turned in place about a meter or two from the location of the rock. He says the rover's front right steering actuator could be to blame. Because the actuator has stopped working, it's possible it caused the ground to "chatter," propelling the rock out of place.

Still, this is just an educated guess. There's an ongoing investigation to determine the origin of Pinnacle Island.

[Image: Flickr user USDAgov]

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33 Comments

  • It looks like a small animal in one photo and a rock in the other. Maybe the machine we got wandering around scared it.

  • Ben Campbell

    Uh well you can see a difference in shadowing clearly from both photos and I can see the object in both photos. Maybe my eyes are just better at picking up subtleties but that rock is in both photos.

  • George Millhouse

    LOL ok yeah so you know better than the scientists do You are just seeing what you want to see

  • Joshua Barth

    Yup, can clearly see the checkmark or Nike "Swoosh" looking mark in both photos.

  • Sean Haldorson

    it is not real and anyone with half an eye can see that digital imagery has glitched and created a superimposed anomaly that mimics the flat image of the surface directcly to the right and below of the so called rock! Get it right you guys!

  • John Carmichael

    The object appears to be hollow! I don't believe there is seismic activity on Mars as there is no plate tectonics. Mars does have an atmosphere albeit a thin one, where do you think that the water vapor clouds come from, not to mention the dust storms that cover the surface every year! Mars has fairly strong winds.

  • Dave Sunhammer

    That is not a rock!! That IS an alien!

    What a fund drive, really. Since when does a rover "peel out" and spray rocks? I mean, spray one rock?

    At first I was hesitant of the "wind" Cory pointed to, but there is quite a difference in gravel location in the bottom half of the images, A little twister or dust devil might account for some rocks moving while others remain unaffected.

    But, I'm still voting for granite based life form. Like a tribble, only harder.

  • If it were the wind, the smaller pebble-sized rocks surrounding it would have been blown out of place long before the big one budged.

  • Maxwell Rodriquez

    eureka! a rock found on mars? where did it come from? No....no....It can't be! It must be none other than MARS!

  • Cory Arp

    there are also some smaller rocks missing OMG aliens there too!. come on guys how long between each sol? more than 24 hours you saying winds dont blow hard enough on mars to move a little rock like that around. please