1. A rock has apparently appeared out of nowhere a few feet away from the Opportunity rover on Mars.
While preparing to start the rover’s robotic arm on January 8, scientists noticed the rock for the first time. The rock was not there in a previous image taken on sol 3528 (the 3528th day the Opportunity rover has been on Mars, equating to late December in Earth time).
2. Steve Squires, lead scientist for the rover, told Discovery News:
It’s about the size of a jelly doughnut. 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.
3. In Nasa’s tradition of naming rocks its Mars rovers encounter, this one has been dubbed “Pinnacle Island”.
Explanations for the rock’s sudden appearance include a nearby meteorite impact or, more likely, that the rover somehow flipped the rock when it moved. NASA said in an update that the rock and its origins “will likely be the target of considerable investigation over the next few days”.
4. Opportunity has been on the red planet since 2004.
The mystery rock was announced at a special tenth anniversary event “10 years of roving Mars” held at California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, Califorinia.
Opportunity and its twin rover Spirit are also known as the Mars Exploration Rovers. Spirit got stuck in a sand trap in 2009, but Opportunity is still roving around the planet doing science having outlived its initial three month mission by almost a decade.