NASAs Perseverance Rover Captures Donut-Shaped Rock On Mars

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The vast frontier of space is full of surprises, and one of those surprises may have come in the form of a rocky doughnut. NASA’s Perseverance rover snapped a picture of a big, dark stone with a hole in its center, which the SETI Institute shared on Monday. The enigmatic discovery adds to the long list of beautiful objects that Perseverance has rolled up during its two-year mission to explore the Red Planet.

Like its fellow Mars rovers, Perseverance is equipped with a suite of science instruments that helps it study the Red Planet’s geological history and search for evidence of past or present life. One of those instruments is the SuperCam Remote Micro-Imager. It sits on top of Perseverance’s headlike mast and uses a laser to fire at targets up to 23 feet (7 meters) away, vaporizing them and allowing scientists to analyze their composition.

Scientists have been using the SuperCam to look at a rock called Maaz, which was likely shaped by the impact of a meteorite. The rover has found that Maaz is made of basalts, which are igneous, or volcanic, rocks that occur both on Mars and Earth. But because of the doughnut-like formation, it’s unclear whether Maaz is also a meteorite or just a rock that formed independently.

Perseverance has learned a lot about Maaz from the pictures that SuperCam has sent back, including that it’s made of a dark material that could have resulted from the fusion of lighter igneous rock fragments. Those data support the idea that Maaz is a meteorite, although what caused the rock to be shaped that way needs to be clarified.

One possibility is that the meteorite broke up on landing and was then eroded by the environment of the Martian surface, according to SETI planetary scientist Pascal Lee. But it could also be that the doughnut shape was created by weaker materials in the rock eroding as it fell to Mars.

The SETI Institute on Monday shared a picture that was clicked with the Perseverance’s SuperCam Remote Micro-Imager on June 23, according to the institute. The image was processed by Stuart Atkinson, a UK-based space enthusiast who routinely processes images taken by spacecraft and rovers.

This isn’t the first time a hitchhiking object has plagued the Mars rover program, and it’s certainly not the last. In December, NASA’s Spirit rover operators had to make an emergency turn to shake off a bunch of pebbles that clogged some of the rover’s inner machinery.

As for the rocky doughnut, it’s currently stuck on the interior of one of Perseverance’s front left wheels. The wheel doesn’t appear at risk for damage but has made the rover’s driving a little noisier. But that’s a minor inconvenience compared to the cosmic annoyance that hitched a ride on NASA’s Opportunity rover in 2014. That rover was forced to perform a sharp turn to shake off a potato-sized rock, which the rover’s team feared would cause significant damage to its internal systems.

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