The Mars jelly doughnut mystery has at last been solved. People who have seen the image of the strange rock, taken by the Curiosity rover, have dubbed the specimen Pinnacle Island.
Discovery of the strange item ignited controversy. Some people claimed the rock, white on the outer rim, with a red center, was alien fungus. On Jan. 8, the Mars jelly doughnut was spotted in an image, lying in a spot photographed just four days before, without the stone. Even Star Trek star William Shatner publicly asked NASA for an explanation.
Pinnacle Island has been measured to be just one-and-a-half inches across, and astronomers now say the strange alien artifact is, in fact, a piece of another rock, moved by the rover. NASA scientists believe Curiosity broke the piece off a larger rock back in January.
New photographs reveal a larger stone, broken by Curiosity, lying just uphill, a few feet away from Pinnacle Island. This stone was named "Stuart Island." It has a similar color scheme to the smaller stone. The wheel track created by Curiosity is visible in the picture, showing the rover did break a piece off the larger rock.
"Once we moved Opportunity a short distance, after inspecting Pinnacle Island, we could see directly uphill an overturned rock that has the same unusual appearance. We drove over it. We can see the track. That's where Pinnacle Island came from," Ray Arvidson, Opportunity Deputy Principal Investigator, said.
Examinations of the chemical makeup of Pinnacle Island reveal large quantities of manganese and sulfur. Both of these elements are soluble in water. This leads some researchers to conclude the rock was formed from the action of running water on the surface of Mars, now gone.
"This may have happened just beneath the surface relatively recently. [O]r it may have happened deeper below ground longer ago and then, by serendipity, erosion stripped away material above it and made it accessible to our wheels," Arvidson said.
NASA engineers were visibly excited when the first image of Pinnacle Island was received. Nothing like it had ever before been seen. Seeing the larger rock from which the "jelly doughnut" came, shows it is just another rock. But the real science gained from this accident may be additional evidence for ancient water beds on Mars.
Curiosity is now headed uphill, heading south, toward exposed rock layers called the McClure-Beverlin Escarpment. This region could shed light on how the surface of Mars changed over time.