December 3, 2020
NASA's Curiosity rover spots unusually shiny Mars rock shaped like a pancake

NASA’s Curiosity rover spots unusually shiny Mars rock shaped like a pancake


A rock on Mars as seen by NASA’s Curiosity rover. This is exactly what my misshapen pancakes look like on Sunday mornings.


NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

There may be turmoil on Earth, but contemplating the quiet calm of weird rocks on Mars can be a soothing escape. Especially when they resemble common Earth objects, like pancakes and drill bits. 

Curiosity snapped several views of a smooth, shiny rock on Nov. 3. It’s in good company with other smaller rocks that sport a similar sheen. 

The larger rock looks a lot like a wayward pancake, but keep in mind that these close-up images often make small pebbles seem bigger than they really are. (That’s one reason why this weird little rock seen in 2019 was not a robot leg.)

Scientists on Twitter have been sharing and discussing some of the funny-shaped rocks seen by Curiosity in recent days. Planetary scientist Emily Lakdawalla retweeted a shot of the shiny rock along with a lovely tribute poem (inspired by Moana) about how it may have been “smoothed with sand.” 

The rock — which one observer thought looked like melted chocolate ice cream — may be a “ventifact” that’s been polished by wind and sand. Mars has plentiful supplies of both.

Citizen scientist Kevin Gill, who has delivered many spectacular Curiosity rover selfies, tweeted a collection of small rocks, one of which amusingly looks like a Phillips-head drill bit thanks to the way the light plays off of it.

“Nice of Mars Curiosity to find that Phillips-head drill bit I lost a few months ago,” Gill joked. The image comes from Curiosity’s photos from Oct. 30 and was taken by the close-up ChemCam instrument. 

This is not a Phillips-head drill bit on Mars, but it’s fun to pretend.


NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL/Red circle by Amanda Kooser/CNET

Curiosity is investigating an area of “rubbly terrain,” according to a rover update blog post on Wednesday. The team’s “main focus is to document the textures, relationships and chemistry of the rocks we encounter,” wrote planetary geologist Lucy Thompson with the University of New Brunswick.

We should soon have even more Mars images to enjoy. NASA’s Perseverance rover is over halfway along on its journey to Mars with a planned landing in February 2021. It will settle on a different part of the planet, but it’s sure to find some fun rocks for us to ogle during its adventures.  

While Mars is currently a pancake-free zone, it’s a playground for the human imagination and our ability to see familiar objects in random shapes, a phenomenon called pareidolia. 

With a company called Aleph Farms already planning ahead on how to supply slaughter-free steaks to future Mars astronauts, the dream of actual pancakes on Mars could one day come true. Don’t forget to pack the maple syrup.





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