A comparison of two raw Pancam photographs from sols 3528 and 3540 of Opportunity's mission (a sol is a Martian day). Notice the "jelly doughnut"-sized rock in the center of the photograph to the right. (courtesy JPL-Caltech/NASA)
One man is claiming that the intriguing Martian rock photographed recently by NASA's Opportunity rover isn't a rock at all, but a living thing, and is now suing the space agency for neglecting to investigate further.
Rhawn Joseph, a neuropsychologist and author, filed a lawsuit in a California court earlier this week demanding NASA "thoroughly scientifically examine and investigate" the mystery object that seemingly appeared out of nowhere on the surface of Mars this month.
Dubbed the "jelly donut," by Opportunity lead scientist Steve Squyres, the rock is white on the outside with a red center. And while NASA scientists admitted it was "unlike anything we have seen before," they definitely determined it to be a rock.
NASA even offered a simple and slightly dull explanation for its curious appearance on Mars on Jan. 8, after photographs taken in the same location just 12 days earlier showed no such object.
That explanations included the possibility that Opportunity's tires knocked the rock, since dubbed "Pinnacle Island," into view.
But the mystery was not to be explained away so fast for Joseph.
The self-labelled astrobiologist and author of several books on extraterrestial life instead resorted to legal action against the agency, explaining in the court petition his theory that the rock is indeed "a putative biological organism."
In fact, it could be a "mushroom-like fungus, a composite organism consisting of colonies of lichen and cyanobacteria, and which on Earth is known as Apothecium," Joseph speculated in the petition.
Joseph contends the object wasn't moved into view by anything; it was already there and grew to its present size in 12 days.
He added that it was "inexplicable, recklessly negligent, and bizarre" that NASA did not take close-up photos from a variety of angles, and requested that "100 high-resolution photos and 24 microscopic in-focus images of the object's exterior" be provided to him.
Joseph's writings have previously appeared on an online journal called Cosmology, which hasn't shied away from publishing controversial topics in the past. He has also authored a range of books on various topics including neuropsychology, UFOs, the Sept. 11 terror attacks and female sexuality.
NASA has responded by saying it cannot talk about a legal matter currently before the court, but it will move ahead with further research on the rock's composition.