January 31

Jelly doughnut-shaped Mars rock has life of its own – in court

A man files papers to demand that NASA do more to investigate the mysterious phenomenon.

Los Angeles Times

The saga of the jelly doughnut-shaped rock on Mars has taken a strange turn – to a federal court.

click image to enlarge

This composite image provided by NASA shows before and-after images taken by the Opportunity rover. At left is an image of a patch of ground taken on Dec. 26, 2013. At right is an image taken on Jan. 8, 2014, showing a rock shaped like a jelly doughnut that had not been there before. The space agency said the rover likely kicked up the rock into its field of view. Opportunity landed on Mars in 2004 and continues to explore.

The Associated Press

Rhawn Joseph, who describes himself as a neuroscientist and astrobiologist, filed court papers this week demanding that NASA do more to investigate the mysterious rock.

“NASA’s rover team inexplicably failed to perform the basic demands of science, which is research, look again,” he wrote in a petition for a writ of mandamus filed this week with the U.S. District Court in San Francisco. “The refusal to release high resolution photos is inexplicable, recklessly negligent and bizarre.”

He asks the judge to order NASA to closely photograph the rock from several angles, thoroughly examine it, and share that information with the public.

The rock is mysterious for a few reasons. It has a depressed, bright red center and a white exterior (hence the comparisons to a jelly doughnut). More important, scientists working with the Opportunity rover have acknowledged that its chemical composition is unlike anything else they have seen on Mars – lots of sulfur, manganese, and magnesium.

But most puzzling is that it just showed up, seemingly out of nowhere. The rock appeared in an image taken 12 days after one made at the same location that did not show such a rock.

Steven Squyres, the principal investigator for the Mars Exploration Rover Mission, said he doesn’t think the rock’s appearance is especially exotic. He and his team have theorized that it may have been dislodged when Opportunity made what he called a pirouette just up the hill from where the rock showed up.

But Joseph suggests that the rock may not be a rock at all, but rather a fungus-like organism. If so, that would mean Opportunity has discovered life on Mars.

Joseph is the author of “Biological UFOs: Evidence for Extraterrestrial Extremophiles and Life in Space.”

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