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Mars mystery rock: Just appears ahead of rover, 'like nothing we've ever seen'

NASA scientists and experts overseeing the Martian rover Opportunity have been fighting amongst themselves lately. It would seem that a very noticeable rock, one about the size of a doughnut, suddenly appeared in the path of the rover. But previously taken photographic shots show that the rock wasn't there -- and then it was. The mystery has some of NASA's top minds arguing over how the rock got where it was not before -- and discussing the peculiar make-up of the rock as well, since it apparently is something scientists have never before run across.

Yahoo News reported Jan. 21 that the discovery of the mystery rock was revealed at the 10th Anniversary ceremony NASA held in honor of the Mars rover Opportunity mission. Steve Squyres, lead scientist of the Mars Exploration Rover mission, told the gathering that the mystery wasn't so much as how the white rock suddenly appeared in front of the rover (two panoramic view photos taken 12 days apart show nothing in the earlier image, a white rock with a dark red center in the second), because it most likely was a flipped rock from one of Opportunity's wheels, but that it's center (the dark red area) was "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."

The presence of the rock, which has been dubbed "Pinnacle Island," and its strange composition has NASA scientists in speculation overdrive. "We're completely confused," Squyres said, "we're having a wonderful time, everyone on the team is arguing and fighting."

That would be scientists fighting, theoretical, clinical, and practical -- but nothing physical (probably).

At present, there are two prevalent theories as to how the jelly doughnut got in front of Opportunity: The rock was flipped by the Mars rover's maneuverings (which would also explain its stark white contrast to the red surface surroundings) or the rock was ejecta from a recent meteorite strike on the Red Planet.

Admittedly, the ejecta theory is seen as the least likely of the two theories.

Squyres, in a later interview with Discovery News, said of the discovery, "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."

The Mars mystery rock is just the latest in a series of strange and anomalous sightings in the photos sent back from the various Mars rovers. Back in May, photos taken by Curiosity in an area called "Rocknest" were said to depict something that looked like a rat or a lizard. It was also suggested that it might be a squirrel.

In February, scientists explained a "shiny" projection from a rock's surface as just part of the landscape, the material just a weathered extension made of finer-grained material.

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