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Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Doughnuts and Blueberries Discovered On Mars

Scientists have just discovered a doughnut rock with a jelly center on Mars. No kidding -- Steve Squyres, lead scientist of the Mars Exploration Rover mission confirmed the find. And even stranger than the actual find, this mysterious circular goody just suddenly appeared out of nowhere in the ghostly geological dessert terrain on day 3540 of the mission.

Scientists are baffled by the white rock with the dark-red, low spot in the middle that "just plain appeared at that spot" where the rover Opportunity is situated. "One of the things I like to say is that Mars keeps throwing new things at us," Squyres said. "We were like, 'Wait a second, that wasn't there before; it can't be right. Oh my god! It wasn't there before!'" reported Squyres.

So, what is the logical explanation? Did the Opportunity rover "flick up" the rock with one of its wheels, or did the rock spew from a smoking hole in the ground nearby as a piece of "crater ejecta"? Amanda Kooser, c/net reporter conjectures: "The least likely explanation is that Elvis is alive and well on Mars and placed the rock there as a message to Earth to send doughnuts."

According to Squyres, instruments have shown scientists that the "jelly" part is "like nothing we've ever seen before" --  even on the distant planet. It's very high in sulfur and magnesium, and it has twice as much manganese as has ever been seen in anything on Mars.

(Elizabeth Landau. "Mystery rock spotted on Mars." CNN. January 21, 2014)

The rock itself has been given the epic name "Pinnacle Island." The place where the doughnut was found, known as Matijevic Hill, was discovered to contain clay minerals, implying that the area was exposed to water billions of years ago.

The rover first spotted Martian hematite blueberries -- iron-rich spherical formations -- soon after its landing in 2004. The blueberries are actually concretions created by minerals in water that settled into sedimentary rock.

And, in 2012, Opportunity observed the Kirkwood outcrop of blister-like bumps that mission scientists can't yet explain. "They seem to be crunchy on the outside, and softer in the middle," Squyres said. "They are different in concentration. They are different in structure. They are different in composition. They are different in distribution. So, we have a wonderful geological puzzle in front of us." Even after two years of study, Squyres said researchers are still unsure what these objects are.

Opportunity is not the only robot roaming Mars. NASA's 2-ton Curiosity rover, which landed in 2012, has an even more powerful suite of scientific instruments. Because of Curiosity's findings, NASA announced for the first time last year that life could have existed on Mars. The rover revealed an ancient streambed where water likely flowed for thousands of years long ago.

 Before (left) and after (right) doughnut discovery on Mars

My Take

Extinct Martians seemed to have an incredible appetite for breakfast food, what with all the discoveries of fossilized doughnuts, crunchy bumps, and blueberries. The evidence suggests Tim Horton's may have been the Martians restaurant of choice.

Whatever the case, it seems most recent mysterious discoveries have been described in "comfort food terminology." I don't see scientists finding bones of animals or remains of ancient fish. Maybe protein deficiency took a deadly toll on a species of alien farmers who relied on grains and fruits.

But, seriously, folks...

One thing is certain: I'm not ready to go UFO crazy because some rock formations resemble objects we Earthlings use to describe their existence. I'm not ready to concede that "proof" of alien life is positive. Even with reports like the following, I am well aware of human imagination, motivation, and greed. If you want to be a true believer now, read this about what Donna Hare "knows" about Mars:

"Donna Hare had a secret clearance while working for NASA contractor, Philco Ford.  She testifies that she was shown a photo of a picture with a distinct UFO. Her colleague explained that it was his job to airbrush such evidence of UFOs out of photographs before they were released to the public.

"She also heard information from other Johnson Space Center employees that some astronauts had seen extraterrestrial craft and that when some of them wanted to speak out about this, they were threatened."
Then, of course, there's Bigfoot and Mothman and the cockroach that ate Cincinnati. I'm so damned tired of scrolling through television channels and seeing mock reality shows featuring discoveries of fantastic creatures that I am ready to restrict my viewing to old episodes of the Andy Griffith Show, in which the only "aliens" are hillbillies like Ernest T. Bass and the bluegrass-picking Darling clan.

I guess the reason it's known as science fiction is that the genre deals principally with the impact of actual and/or imagined science upon society or individuals. As Neil Armstrong said upon being the first human to set foot on the moon: "That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind."

I wonder if many people rush to interpret a "small step" of human technology too giant an inductive leap for scientific confirmation. Round rock... to jelly doughnut... to NASA airbrushing... to Area 51. It's clear to some that aliens are among us, and they're hungry, too. Well, you know what "they" say about "Opportunity that knocks." Maybe, for believers, "once" is enough to leap to conclusions.

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