back to article 'The Mystery of the Martian Doughnut' solved by NASA sleuths

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory says it has solved the mystery of a doughnut-shaped rock that appeared in front of its Opportunity Mars rover in January. Mars doughnut Before and after doughnut delivery (click to enlarge) The 1.5-inch rock, dubbed Pinnacle Island, appeared on Opportunity's cameras on January 8, and NASA …


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  1. Tom 7

    I've just found some wolves hiding in my shed

    poor things.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I still think it is a turd.

  3. Zmodem

    talking ass, its probably fungus growing out of the rock with the same shape indent in on the left image before it appears

    it them aliens leaving footsteps behind laughing at them

  4. Phil W


    It's clearly a tinfoil hat belonging to a martian, to protect it from that scary alien robot.

  5. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

    And the question which comes to mind after watching the video is "so, what is the blast radius of an on-the-pad Saturn V explosion?"

    1. Graham Marsden

      @Phil O'Sophical

      African or...

      ... sorry, wrong punchline.

    2. TitterYeNot

      Blast Radius

      And the question which comes to mind after watching the video is "so, what is the blast radius of an on-the-pad Saturn V explosion?"

      Nearly as big as the radius of the blasts from the backsides of anyone near that Atlas when it went off I should think...

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Blast Radius

        Probably a lot bigger than they thought. I remember after Challenger blew up they moved people a LOT further away from Shuttle liftoffs.

    3. phuzz Silver badge

      There's a good article about it here:

      Except that the one thing it doesn't mention is the actual radius of the explosion they were expecting. However, the upper limit *if all the fuel went up in one go* was something like half a kiloton, so, I'd want to be a very long way away from that.

  6. Graham Dawson Silver badge

    To me this highlights why we ultimately need people up there alongside the rovers. It takes days to figure out what this is due to the restricted view and restricted motion, whilst a chap standing there and looking directly at it could figure it out in moments.

    1. John McCallum

      Aye but would the conspiricy nuts believe them as they would all be saying that the 'nauts were being filmed on a back lot in Hollywood?

    2. BlueGreen

      @Graham Dawson

      Cost is:

      1. Astronaut (let's assume they're a loner and happy just being the one there)

      2. Oxygen (substantial)

      2.5. Adequate energy generation for all of it (let's suppose nuclear for size and self-containedness).

      3. Water (a small amount, so let's ignore it)

      4. a unit to reclaim water from waste (not a small thing, can't ignore it)

      5. Food (substantial) (or growing units to make it on the fly - pretty bloody substantial esp. if producing oxygen as well)

      6. habitation for the journey (substantial) (can't fold a 'naut up small and let them freeze)

      7. extra rocket size + extra fuel + probably extra rockets to get it all up to orbit (mega expensive)

      8. shielding for guy/gal from external rays and one's own nuclear reactor.

      9. And same again to get them back if they choose.

      10. The higher cost of the transport (rocket) needed for the higher quality of the cargo (a human) - very expensive!

      11. insurance against loss much higher?

      12. Potential much greater negative PR if chappie/chappess leaves mortal coil in a glory of fireworks, or they just die dismally (very likely)

      Given that, they could have just lifted a much larger and more sophisticated robot.

      Have one of my rare downvotes - sorry.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: @Graham Dawson

        Oxygen can be recycled from CO2, so you don't need "substantial" amounts of it.

        1. Grikath

          Re: @Graham Dawson

          Yeeeesss... And given the readiness with which carbon and oxicen combine tells you how easy it will be to separate the two again..

          Good thing a nuclear reactor is assumed to be present, may as well scale it up a bit to pull that one off...

        2. cray74

          Re: @Graham Dawson

          @DougS: Oxygen's needed at about 1kg per day per adult. A crew of 10 on a 2-year round trip to Mars would only need 7300kg (no margin) without recycling, just CO2 scrubbing. And before you recycle oxygen from CO2, keep in mind that the human metabolism as produces water (lots of hydrogen in food to react with inhaled oxygen). Mir and ISS both used water electrolysis to recover oxygen from water, while carbon dioxide is mostly scrubbed and dumped overboard.

          @BlueGreen: you have touched on some of the differences and challenges for sending astronauts to Mars versus nuclear robo-tanks, but those are the tip of the iceberg. A nuclear submarine has most of the features you mentioned, but it's also not nearly as expensive as a manned Mars mission. The big difference is getting all those systems (or at least their backups) to work flawlessly for several years at absolute minimum masses. "When failure's not an option, success gets really expensive."

          1. BlueGreen

            Re: @Graham Dawson @cray74

            > The big difference is getting all those systems (or at least their backups) to work flawlessly for several years at absolute minimum [...].

            I was fully aware of this - see point 10.

            > "When failure's not an option, success gets really expensive."

            That's a great quote, like it!

      2. Graham Dawson Silver badge

        Re: @Graham Dawson

        Given these are all issues that need to be overcome anyway if we're ever to get a permanent presence off this rock, I don't quite understand your objection.

        1. Uffish

          Re: issues that need to be overcome

          I think the problem is that there are a lot of issues that need to be overcome, most of them have nothing to do with extraterrestrial habitats but are, strangely, more pressing.

      3. Vladimir Plouzhnikov


        You have a very beancountery view of the world - you are only looking at direct costs and discard the indirect costs and the benefits.

        1. BlueGreen

          Re: @BlueGreen @Vladimir Plouzhnikov

          > You have a very beancountery view of the world

          Abso-fucking-lutely I do.

          > you are only looking at direct costs and discard the indirect costs and the benefits.

          So you're criticising not my muttering, hunched-over Dickensian beancounteryness, but that I missed out some beans???

          1. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

            Re: @BlueGreen @Vladimir Plouzhnikov

            "but that I missed out some beans???"

            Oh, yes! Send 20 mindless rovers to mill about aimlessly on Mars and your combined mission costs (including all the support on the home planet) will add up to something close to a manned mission and for little or no return other than some pretty pictures and continuous employment of a certain number of personnel. Send a team of humans and you will get science done, useful and useable returns and much more publicity (even if your humans would sadly expire in the process).

  7. Idocrase

    What I don't understand is why they didn't include some sort of dry-wipe mechanism for the solar panels on Opportunity.

    A swiffa cloth would have done the job!

    1. Pu02

      no robotic swiffas... it isn't worth it

      ... the rate of dust precipitation over the operational item's lifespan, as well as the risk of extraordinary 'dustings' et al, just don't warrant the cost. Remember that you can't use normal ICs, electronic circuits, and any additional mechanical or powered complexity also has a significant 'planetary transfer' cost- let alone the testing and bureaucracy cost...

      Might be better that we put a robot cleaner up there someday to revive all the dusty panels, let alone clean up the donuts, turds and Chinese trash left all over the place- then again, if we ever colonise the place, maybe these things are best left well alone so the first inhabitants can feel they are well at home!

      1. Sir Runcible Spoon

        Re: no robotic swiffas... it isn't worth it

        How about a miniature gas compressor, then it can be used to blow the dust off

  8. John Deeb

    Then again, if it's a type of fungus you'd expect it to pop up elsewhere in similar shape and chemical composition, especially at places you stirred up the surface and (perhaps) some fleeting captured moisture. Not only rocks roll down hill, you know?

    It's not that I don't believe NASA but to really falsify any fungus speculation, just release the definite spectrometry so other scientists can determine it to be a dry rock mass of some kind using the numbers. But just to show another weird rock shape and suppose "origination" is not really scientific sounding.

  9. R Soles

    If NASA

    Are going to give names to every small pebble they come across, they are going to run out of options preety soon. There's a lot of them pebbles out there ...

    1. TheOtherHobbes

      Re: If NASA

      > There's a lot of them pebbles out there ...

      There's a lot of people down here.

      Probably enough to give everyone a few Martian pebbles of their own.

      1. Francis Boyle

        NASA funding


      2. ravenviz Silver badge

        Re: If NASA

        Excellent, a new business idea, selling Martian pebbles!

        C'mon NASA can you give them boring names like PEB-23791c so I can rename them and sell them to numpties? They'll get a certificate and everything!

        Come to think of it, two would be enough, they'd never know! At ease!

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    That stone is tiny. Aren't Islands supposed to be a bit bigger?

  11. Arachnoid

    If it were a moss or fungus on Mars

    What is to stop the darn stuff growing on the nice warm solar panels and gradually reducing their efficacy

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    " a former WWII paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne, and [...] a former missionary"

    Good combo, apparently.


  13. Grease Monkey Silver badge

    Has anybody seen the "evidence" that Rhawn Joseph claimed to have showing that the pebble is fungus?

    1. John Deeb

      Here it is (pdf). The article contains 25 photographs of various candidates of algae, fungi, and lichens on Mars. It's tricky though, attempting science from interpreting photographs and just on some personal title. The only defence I could think of is that at least these type of life forms would be expected, if any complex biology would be there. And they would battle for available water and perhaps pop up on the track of the rover. Sadly enough nobody predicted that ahead of time. Post-priori is all too easy...

  14. Jim Wilkinson

    Windy on Mars?

    So what is the surface pressure? And what are the constituent gases and ratios? I guess the gas types and pressure could lead to some interesting experiments here on earth. Just curious.

    1. phuzz Silver badge

      Re: Windy on Mars?

  15. Mutantone

    and there are no sensors on the machine to check and see just what it is?

    imagine something of use and value all over the planet just under the coating of dust going unnoticed

  16. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

    OK, so they've explained the doughnut

    But who will explain why there are astronaut's footprints all over Mars, eh?

    1. Intractable Potsherd

      Re: OK, so they've explained the doughnut

      My thought too! Either that, or Martians wear shows with the same pattern as mine around the garden ...

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    We drove over it. We can see the track.

    This looks like bootsteps to me.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    it's a shell from a Martian crustacean. I have pictures that look like it. QED.

  19. Paul Hovnanian Silver badge

    There's some guy in NASA's spacecraft final preparation group who has been wondering all this time where he set down his jelly dougnut.

  20. thx1138v2

    Amazing times we live in

    Finally an answer to, Which came first the cop or the donut? Now to see a real martian you need the rover to lay out a solitare spread and a martian will be along in a moment to tell the rover how to play it.

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