A Mars mystery rock is puzzling scientists who cannot explain how a mysterious rock suddenly appeared in front of the Mars Opportunity rover. “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,” said NASA Mars Exploration Rover lead scientist Steve Squyres according to a Jan. 17, 2014, Fox News report.
“After a decade of exploring the Martian surface, the scientists overseeing veteran rover Opportunity thought they’d seen it all. That was until a rock mysteriously ‘appeared’ a few feet in front of the six-wheeled rover a few days ago.”
The Mars mystery rock was made public by Steve Squyres of Cornell University during Thursday night’s special NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory “10 years of roving Mars” event at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. The event celebrated the 10 years that twin rovers Spirit and Opportunity have spent on Mars.
The Opportunity rover has not moved in more than a month on Mars but photos taken within a few days shows the sudden appearance of a rock that was not there before. The “Before” picture, taken on Sol 3528, shows only bare bedrock. The “After” picture, taken on Sol 3540, shows a fist-sized rock that scientists cannot explain. One sol is a Mars day which is slightly longer than an Earth day.
So far, scientists have two major explanations for the Mars mystery rock. First, the rock landed there after a nearby meteorite event. Or second, the rover somehow moved the rock and flipped it while it tried to make a turn. Opportunity's front right steering actuator has stopped working which would cause the wheel to be unable to fully turn left or right.
"So if you do a turn in place on bedrock, as you turn that wheel across the rock, it's gonna kinda 'chatter.' This jittery motion across the bedrock may have propelled the rock out of place, ‘tiddlywinking’ the object from its location and flipping it a few feet away from the rover,” says Steve Squyres who emphasizes that this might be “the possible culprit behind the whole mystery.”
"I must stress that I’m guessing now.”
Steve Squyres’ theory about the Mars mystery rock is the leading theory behind the case of the random bright rock that scientists have nicknamed “Pinnacle Island” – but nobody knows for sure where Pinnacle Island came from.