NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover could be having a starvation-induced fever dream after spending more than 800 Earth days without food or water on the barren Martian surface.
More likely, however, the picture it snapped is of a doughnut-shaped rock that is the product of ordinary erosion.
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Oddly shaped rocks aren’t uncommon on Mars (or Earth, for that matter). The rock in question may have been formed over aeons as Martian winds sandblasted smaller rocks which eroded near its centre. Over time, wind would have enlarged the cavity left behind.
The rock was first spotted by the plucky rover from about 400 metres away on April 15, 2023 in the Jezero Crater where Perseverance landed on February 18, 2021.
The image of the doughnut-shaped rock comes as NASA has only just reestablished contact with its Martian helicopter Ingenuity after two months of radio silence. A hill between Ingenuity and Perseverance – which acts as a communications conduit for the helicopter – was blocking communications between the two robots.
While its helicopter buddy was incognito, Perseverance was only a few hundred metres away taking food pictures like an inattentive friend taking snaps for Instagram.
Perseverance and Ingenuity are tasked with exploring an ancient river delta on the edge of the 45-kilometre-wide Jezero Crater. Their mission is to learn about the crater’s formation and potentially even find signs of ancient life on the desolate planet.
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The holey rock may not be a Martian snack, or the key to understanding the Red Planet’s history, but it is yet another example of the intricate detail with which Perseverance is able to analyse and send back information about our solar neighbour.
And the real question is: if it really were a doughnut, what flavour is it? My guess: “Rocky Road.” Or “Martian Surprise.”
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