Pharyngula

Funny Looking Rock found on Mars!

When last we heard from Rhawn Joseph, he was playing with photoshop and trying to sell off his online journal, the Journal of Cosmology. The Journal of Cosmology has been plugging away, claiming to have found bacteria in meteorites and then diatoms in meteorites — give them a blurry, vague photo of some shapeless blob, and they’ll claim it looks just like something biological on Earth. Either that, or they’ll photoshop my head on to it.

Rhawn Joseph’s latest struggle: he’s suing NASA for suppressing evidence of life on Mars. His evidence is this pair of photos taken by the Mars Opportunity rover, 12 days apart, and released by NASA.

sol3540

Look! There’s a rock in the later picture that wasn’t there earlier! How did it get there? NASA’s explanations were first, speculation that it could be a meteorite, but now they seem to think that it was most likely flicked by the rover itself, as it was making a turn. That sounds reasonable to me.

But not to Rhawn Joseph! We’re missing the most obvious “fact” of all, that what appeared in the later photo was no rock at all, but a mushroom. He demands that NASA investigate thoroughly, using the power of a legal writ.

In Re RHAWN JOSEPH’S PETITION FOR A WRIT OF MANDAMUS COMPELLING NASA TO PERFORM A DUTY TO THOROUGHLY SCIENTIFICALLY EXAMINE AND INVESTIGATE A PUTATIVE BIOLOGICAL ORGANISM ON MARS IDENTIFIED/DISCOVERED BY PETITIONER AND REFERRED TO BY NASA AS: “UNLIKE ANYTHING WE HAVE SEEN BEFORE.”

How can you doubt it? He has since published his results in a “scientific journal” — his own online website — complete with side-by-side photos of the Martian Funny-Looking-Rock and earthly apothecia.

Apothecia

The “mysterious” bowl-like structure which appeared on Mars does not resemble a rock or a meteor, but a lichen fungus which on Earth is known as “Apothecia.” A magnification of the structure Sol 3540 reveals the presence of numerous “paraphyses” which are spore producing organs of Apothecium. On Earth Apothecia are commonly observed on rocks, tree limbs, or growing on the ground next to open road. Related species are known by a variety of names, such as Eastern Speckled Shield Lichen (Punctellia Bolliana). The term “shield lichen” is applied to a variety of foliose lichens. An important characteristic is their bowl-shaped growth with brown inner surfaces. These bowl shaped structures are “apothecia” and appear basically identical to the “mystery” structure depicted in Sol 3540 but which NASA wishes the public to believe is a rock or meteor which suddenly sprouted on this slab of Martian real estate.

In case you missed the similarity, here’s a photo of the Mars FLR with big red arrows and bold text pointing to the “paraphyses” — you know, just in case the visual similarity might not be as strong as Joseph claims.

paraphyses

Joseph says that if you “magnify” the image the similarities to the paraphyses of apothecia are even more apparent, which is kind of amusing: you can’t magnify the raw pixel data. All the information you get is right there. You can make it larger, but that’s not at all the same as increasing resolution.

I have used all the powers bestowed upon me with my Ph.D. to squint even harder than Rhawn Joseph at that rock, and I’m sorry, it’s a rock. It’s not a fungus or a lichen or a Happy Meal toy or Rhawn Joseph’s lost marbles, and if you look at the raw image rather than one that Joseph has pseudocolored to tint it green, it doesn’t look particularly biological.

Also, NASA already seems quite happy to investigate further.

Mr Squyres said scientists believe the rock, named "Pinnacle Island," got there when the aging rover did a pirouette turn in the dusty Martian soil and knocked loose a chunk of bedrock that rolled a short distance downhill.

"We think that in the process of that wheel moving across the ground, we kind of flicked it, kind of tiddly winked it out of the ground and it moved to the location where we see it," Mr Squyres said.

Still, scientists have not found the divet the rock would have left behind. They think it is hidden beneath one of the rover’s solar arrays.

The Opportunity team plans to manuever the robotic vehicle around a bit more to see if they can find the spot from which the rock emerged.

As to why it is such an unusual color [it's a darker red than the surface], Mr Squyres said it may be that humans are witnessing a surface that has not been exposed in a very, very long time.

"It appears that it may have flipped itself upside down," he said.

"If that is the case, what we are seeing is we are seeing the surface, the underside of a rock, that hasn’t seen the Martian atmosphere for perhaps billions of years."

Already, an analysis of the rock with the Opportunity’s spectrometer has shown a "strange composition, different from anything we have seen before," he told reporters.

The rock has a lot of sulphur, along with very high concentrations of manganese and magnesium.

"We are still working this out. We are making measurements right now. This is an ongoing story of discovery," he said.

Ah, but I think you see the real problem: NASA has used data from other instruments on the rover to come to a conclusion that differs from Rhawn Joseph’s far-fetched speculation of Martian mushrooms.

Comments

  1. […] By PZ Myers […]

  2. #2 AwE130
    London UK
    January 30, 2014

    On the day NASA released the image a tiny originally Dutch based website did already notice that it did not look like a rock but more like a fungus. Also it seems that the images are 3528 and 3540 are switch according the article. When you look at the spot were the fungus should be, you see some strange anomalies. It looks like a fungus has been pulled out of the ground, you can still see the marks of the roots of the fungus in SOL 3528. Did NASA switch the order of the images and was image SOL 3540 taken first and SOL 3528 taken after NASA harvested the fungus? NASA has mis-numbered images before.
    http://www.awe130.com/index.php/the-latest-news/208

  3. #3 alex farve
    January 31, 2014

    its interesting to know that its like a fungus,seems like heart shape rock.
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  4. #4 David Marjanović
    Museum für Naturkunde, Berlin
    January 31, 2014

    Wow, AwE130, you actually believe it’s a fungus? An organism from Earth on Mars?

    When you look at the spot were the fungus should be, you see some strange anomalies.

    The resolution of the image is simply too low to tell.

    Fungi don’t have roots, BTW. The mycelium is the fungus, and the mushroom is its fruiting body; and mycelia don’t look much like roots, they’re thin throughout the length of each hypha.

    It’s most likely a rock that the rover itself kicked out of place and into its field of view when it turned.

  5. #5 GregH
    January 31, 2014

    No way. It was Martians throwing rocks to distract the operators from what’s going on behind Opportunity.

  6. #6 Maestro
    Portland OR USA
    January 31, 2014

    No one has yet mentioned the big divot shown in Sol 3540, far to the left of the word “After” in the photo. This spot is undisturbed in Sol 3528. Some sources have shown pebbles moving between the Sols in these shots and, along with this divot, would seem to be the best explanation for the errant rock: It got dislodged from its originally spot and bounced/rolled to its current spot. What’s with all the controversy?

  7. […] Funny Looking Rock found on Mars! He has since published his results in a “scientific journal” — his own online website — complete with side-by-side photos of the Martian Funny-Looking-Rock and earthly apothecia. Apothecia … This is an ongoing story of discovery," he said. Ah, but … Read more on ScienceBlogs (blog) […]

  8. #8 Jim
    February 5, 2014

    Can you imagine his reaction if that was a rock in the shape of a cross? He would be beseeching all moronic religious organizations to immediately send a manned mission to Mars and turn it into a shrine. The insane hordes would be fighting to get a seat on the space ship and upon landing there would be a babble of insane worship and slavering of moronic tongues to give vent to religious insanity. Anything is possible with religion except rational thought.

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