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Mystery rock on Mars
January 17, 2014 3:06 PM   Subscribe

....wait...this wasn't here a second ago! A mysterious Martian rock that appeared in front of the Opportunity rover within days has left scientists scratching their heads.
posted by shockingbluamp (46 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
Non Daily Mail link.
posted by laconic skeuomorph at 3:08 PM on January 17 [19 favorites]


Where's the kaboom? There was supposed to be an earth-shattering kaboom!
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 3:10 PM on January 17 [25 favorites]


From the Discovery.com link:

"Opportunity’s front right steering actuator has stopped working, so Squyres identified that as the possible culprit behind the whole mystery.

Each wheel on the rover has its own actuator. Should an actuator jam or otherwise fail, the robot’s mobility can suffer. In the case of this wheel, it can no longer turn left or right. “So if you do a turn in place on bedrock,” continued Squyres, “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."
posted by I-baLL at 3:11 PM on January 17 [4 favorites]


If it's on fire, do NOT stomp on it.
posted by Saxon Kane at 3:11 PM on January 17 [2 favorites]


MARS NEEDS MOLES
posted by The Whelk at 3:12 PM on January 17 [1 favorite]


It's Raining Florence Henderson:

Don't you mean "Mars-shattering kaboom"?
posted by I-baLL at 3:12 PM on January 17 [1 favorite]


Never missing a scientific opportunity, Opportunity scientists hope to study the bright rock. “It obligingly turned upside down, so we’re seeing a side that hasn’t seen the Martian atmosphere in billions of years and there it is for us to investigate. It’s just a stroke of luck,” he said.
Space is amazing.
posted by lostburner at 3:20 PM on January 17 [3 favorites]


(Picture of Rock in the right half of the image)
Caption: "An strange rock, seen here on the left image..."

(Picture of Mars Rover Curiousity)
Caption: "Opportunity landed on Mars in 2004 in what was to be a three-month mission..."

GAH!
posted by yeti at 3:32 PM on January 17 [2 favorites]


I'm probably being a bit sensitive, but does anybody else read 'scientists left scratching their heads' headlines as 'ho HO! Where's your precious science NOW, you godless nerds?'

Not in this example, necessarily, but it seems to get trotted out a bit, and contrasts with, say, 'scientists now happily working around the clock gathering evidence and analysing data, having successfully used this approach to land an awesome robot on another fucking planet in the first place'.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 3:43 PM on January 17 [16 favorites]


"I'm probably being a bit sensitive..."


Yes.
posted by shockingbluamp at 3:46 PM on January 17 [1 favorite]


I'm probably being a bit sensitive...

No, you're spot on. I didn't click through to OP's link but that's exactly the sort of thing I expected from the Mail, and why the very first thing I did was go find another source. Fuck the Mail.
posted by laconic skeuomorph at 4:00 PM on January 17 [17 favorites]


I'm probably being a bit sensitive...


Another vote for no. Daily Mail churned out a link-baity story along the lines of "OMG SCIENTISTS BAFFLED!", when the actual story is "OMG COOL ROCK!" (for which scientists don't yet have sufficient data to determine between two plausible hypotheses for its origin because, you know, those data are being beamed to them from a 10-year-old robot traveling on another planet.)
posted by Tsuga at 4:23 PM on January 17 [5 favorites]


In fact, I just want to repeat that last bit:

____NASA has a ten-year-old robot traveling on another planet. How cool is that?____
posted by Tsuga at 4:26 PM on January 17 [16 favorites]


Beware Cessair of Diplos.
posted by sonascope at 4:59 PM on January 17


has left scientists scratching their heads.

Except, even the most cursory of readings shows, they're not scratching their heads at all and have a very good working hypothesis as to how this happened.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 5:00 PM on January 17 [3 favorites]


I think a Martian is throwing rocks at the rover.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 5:13 PM on January 17 [3 favorites]


News about mars rovers always make me think about this old XKCD strip on Spirit and then I get inexplicably sad.
posted by bigendian at 5:23 PM on January 17 [8 favorites]


I think that sadness is entirely explicable.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 5:27 PM on January 17 [8 favorites]


I must once again post John Updike's poem "Duet On Mars".

And then pour out a glass for poor Spirit, with a small tear in my eye. Our robot explorer friends are amazing beyond belief.
posted by hippybear at 5:33 PM on January 17 [1 favorite]


So it's not just some kind of meteor thingy?
posted by freakazoid at 5:33 PM on January 17


Our robot explorer friends are amazing beyond belief

It's amazing, these things are basically RC cars with gadgets bolted on, and we anthropomorphize them so much.

That's not a criticism! I do it too, thinking of these intrepid little robots bravely exploring Mars because we can't. I kind of think of them as a cross between Wall-E and Johnny 5. It really did feel like someone had died when Spirit stopped broadcasting.

I would really love to see someone do some in-depth research and good writing about this phenomenon--not our ascribing of human characteristics to inanimate objects in general, I'm sure that's been done to death, but specifically with the Mars rovers.

I also wish NASA would be a lot louder about "This was supposed to work for three months. TEN YEARS LATER we're still getting data. THAT is why you should give us the big money instead of building more bombs."
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 5:44 PM on January 17 [16 favorites]


Is this rock godless?
posted by telstar at 5:45 PM on January 17


Of all the crappy disappointing movies for life to imitate, Apollo 18?
posted by XMLicious at 6:03 PM on January 17


*Martian wakes up, throws rock*
Yankee go home.
posted by BlueHorse at 6:29 PM on January 17 [1 favorite]


I-baLL: " “tiddlywinking” the object from its location and flipping it a few feet away from the rover.""

I like that tiddlywink is now a verb.
posted by Chrysostom at 7:38 PM on January 17 [1 favorite]


Tiddlywink has been verbed.
posted by hippybear at 8:14 PM on January 17


I like that tiddlywink is now a verb.

How does that scurrilous line from Lolita go? '... winking happy thoughts into a little tiddle cup'?
posted by jamjam at 8:19 PM on January 17 [2 favorites]


I do it too, thinking of these intrepid little robots bravely exploring Mars because we can't. I kind of think of them as a cross between Wall-E and Johnny 5. It really did feel like someone had died when Spirit stopped broadcasting.

I would really love to see someone do some in-depth research and good writing about this phenomenon--not our ascribing of human characteristics to inanimate objects in general, I'm sure that's been done to death, but specifically with the Mars rovers.


I actually wrote some song lyrics from the viewpoint of Opportunity, which I performed at a local sea-chanty sing last year with that same justification--these robots are doing the dangerous voyages and fearless exploration that used to be the domain of human sailors, and since the robots can't write their own songs (or at least haven't shared them with us), we just have to do it for them.
posted by fermion at 9:49 PM on January 17 [2 favorites]


"...on a three month tour...."

Yeah. I second the GAH!.

That movie Silent Running had those adorable robots, see, and they...Dewey didn't make it, so there was just Hewey and Louie. Or maybe it was Dewey and Louie. Anyhow, it was so sad. Now this. In real life. Opportunity has to roam the barren Martian landscape, alone, for eternity.

When those Mars Colony guys put the private hotel in at the lip of the Valles Marinaris, see, they can have bubble-bus tours to see Rover and Opportunity. Wine and cheese. You can take pictures. For an extra $500 you can pet them.
posted by mule98J at 12:06 AM on January 18


mule98J: "Opportunity has to roam the barren Martian landscape, alone, for eternity."

No, actually, it's more likely that it will shut down entirely and die within the next few years.

Does that make you feel better?
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 2:49 AM on January 18


How do they know it landed upside down if they don't know where it came from?
posted by double bubble at 5:54 AM on January 18


You can see the bar code.
posted by amanda at 7:52 AM on January 18 [1 favorite]


How do they know it landed upside down if they don't know where it came from?

I was wondering the same. Maybe something like the colouration (is less faded than others nearby, as it was not exposed to the sun), or the roughness of the surface (is rougher than others nearby, as it was shielded from dust storms).
posted by tickingclock at 8:22 AM on January 18


if it came from Australia, it's right side up.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 8:41 AM on January 18


It's the size of a jelly doughnut. Not any old doughnut. A jelly doughnut. Science!
posted by The corpse in the library at 12:00 PM on January 18 [2 favorites]


"That's not your candy bar wrapper over there, is it?"
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 12:51 PM on January 18


I would really love to see someone do some in-depth research and good writing about this phenomenon--not our ascribing of human characteristics to inanimate objects in general, I'm sure that's been done to death, but specifically with the Mars rovers.

Janet Vertesi might cover some of it.
My research focuses on the human-robot interactions that fuel planetary science research, and how the social organization of technical teams affects and reflects their robots' activities and scientific results.
posted by zamboni at 3:04 PM on January 18 [1 favorite]


How do they know it landed upside down if they don't know where it came from?

Because it's not Mars red, but white. Anything sitting around on Mars gets covered with the omnipresent fine iron oxide dust. If it's not red, it just got there, or is newly exposed. The ring of white, with Mars red in the middle is consistent with a rock sitting upside down with the raised middle exposed.
posted by zamboni at 3:25 PM on January 18 [3 favorites]


It's the size of a jelly doughnut. Not any old doughnut. A jelly doughnut. Science!

It's more about colour.
Squyres described the rock as “white around the outside, in the middle there’s low spot that is dark red. It looks like a jelly donut,” he said.
posted by zamboni at 3:32 PM on January 18


It's the size of a jelly doughnut. Not any old doughnut. A jelly doughnut. Science!
It's more about colour.

Squyres described the rock as “white around the outside, in the middle there’s low spot that is dark red. It looks like a jelly donut,” he said.


"Ich bin ein Berliner!" said the Martian rock.
posted by smrtsch at 4:14 PM on January 18 [4 favorites]


oo, clever.


And thanks zamboni!
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 4:20 PM on January 18


That "rock" is clearly a martian life form that we haven't been able to recognize yet and it has come to check out wtf this robot is doing in its neighborhood.
posted by rmless at 7:15 AM on January 19


NASA's Opportunity Rover Celebrates a Decade on Mars
posted by homunculus at 9:56 AM on January 25


NASA Gets Sued For Not Noticing That Mars Mystery Rock Is Totally An Alien
posted by homunculus at 5:07 PM on January 29


Curiosity captures its first photo of Earth from the surface of Mars
posted by homunculus at 2:49 PM on February 7


NASA reveals the mystery of the rock that suddenly materialized on Mars
posted by homunculus at 4:48 PM on February 14 [1 favorite]


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