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Mars rover spies mysterious 'jelly doughnut' rock

A mystery rock wrapped in an enigma wrapped in a doughnut appeared on Mars recently, and NASA's trying to figure out how it got there.

doughnut-sized rock
These images show the same area before and after the rock appeared. NASA/JPL-Caltech

Mars is full of surprises, like misinterpreted photographs of Elvis' face in a rock formation and the discovery of conditions that may have been suited to ancient life on the planet.

Now the Opportunity rover has stumbled on something else weird: a rock shaped like a jelly doughnut. This might not be strange in itself, except that the rock just sort of popped up. It wasn't there and then it was.

Opportunity, Curiosity's pioneering cousin, has been busy on Mars for 10 years. The oddball rock was brought to the public's attention at an anniversary event for the rover by NASA scientist Steve Squyres. "It's about the size of a jelly doughnut. It was a total surprise, we were like, 'Wait a second, that wasn't there before, it can't be right. Oh my god! It wasn't there before!' We were absolutely startled," Squyres told Discovery News.

The rock itself has been given the epic name "Pinnacle Island." Its upside-down resting position gives scientists a chance to study a rock surface that has likely been laying downward on the planet's surface for billions of years.

The rover team is busy examining the rock, trying to figure out how it got there. There are several possible options, including the rover's own movement somehow sending the rock flying to its current resting place. A meteorite impact could have landed it there, though that theory is more of a long shot.

The least likely explanation is that Elvis is alive and well on Mars and placed the rock there as a message to Earth to send doughnuts.

Mars Opportunity rover
The Mars Opportunity rover has kept on trucking past its 10-year anniversary. NASA/JPL-Caltech