One of the Mars rovers snapped a photo of a rock that seemed to appear out of nowhere.
National Aeronautics and Space Administration recently announced that the Opportunity rover beamed back images of a doughnut-sized rock appeared suddenly in between two captured photographs.
Steve Squyres, NASA’s lead scientist for the Mars rover exploration team, said a rock appeared, sitting in a place nearby where there wasn’t one previously just twelve days prior. Squyres reported that the rock appears to be in an upside-down position, which means it’s showing a face that has not been impacted by the Martian atmosphere, for perhaps millions of years, Phys.org reports.
NASA’s announcement was part of a California Institute of Technology event to celebrate a decade of service by the tiny rover. Opportunity has well outlived its intended lifespan, and scientists on the team suspect the rock may have appeared after the damaged rover kicked up loose rocks or gravel in its path. Phys.org reports:
How it got there has NASA’s best scratching their heads. Thus far, they have two main likely explanations: either the rock was tossed to that spot after a meteorite impact nearby, or far more likely, it came to rest there as a result of clumsy maneuvering by Opportunity itself. The rover is having trouble getting around these days as one of its actuators has failed. This means one wheel winds up scrapping the ground during turns, producing what Squyres described as “chatter” which he said could have caused some debris to be flung to where the rock is now sitting.
The rover team has named the rock “Pinnacle Island.” Opportunity conducted an initial inspection of the rock and the data indicates high levels of sulfur and potassium. The rock has bright white edges with a deep ruby red center.
The rover team plans to conduct further tests on the rock, and will almost certainly have the rover spin around as soon as it’s able to see if other rocks have appeared as well.