PASADENA, Calif. - A mysterious rock that suddenly appeared in front of the stationary Opportunity Mars rover has scientists on Earth scratching their heads.
The rover, which has been on Mars since Jan. 24, 2004, hasn't moved in more than a month because scientists are waiting for better weather conditions. It is currently up on 'Solander Point' at the rim of Endeavour Crater.
A black and white photograph, taken on Jan. 8, shows a rock near the rover that wasn't there four days earlier and scientists have no idea where it came from.
"The rover has been finishing up analysis of the 'Cape Darby' area before moving on toward what the team believes will be her winter location. While preparing to start robotic arm work on the target 'Cape Elizabeth' on Sol 3541 (Jan. 8, 2014), Opportunity encountered a slight surprise -- a rock had appeared in the images that had not been there before . This target that has been named 'Pinnacle Island' and its origin has been the target of much speculation. It will likely be the target of considerable investigation over the next few days," the Jet Propulsion Lab in California said in a statement .
Mars Exploration Rover lead scientist Steve Squyres said the rock may be Martian rock that was blown out of the ground by a meteoroid impact and landed next to the rover.
"We saw this rock just sitting here. It looks white around the edge in the middle and there's a low spot in the center that's dark red -- it looks like a jelly donut," he said.
"We've taken pictures of both the doughnut and jelly parts, and the got the first data on the composition of the jelly (Saturday). It's like nothing we've ever seen before, It's very high in sulfur, it's very high in magnesium, it's got twice as much manganese as we've ever seen in anything on Mars," said Squyres. "I don't know what any of this means. We're completely confused, and everyone in the team is arguing and fighting (over what it means).
View raw mission photos here: http://ch7ne.ws/1msENdn
Opportunity has traveled 24 miles since it landed on Mars a decade ago.