Rhawn Joseph v. NASA


A jelly donut-like rock on Mars found by NASA’s rover Opportunity (Photo: Mars Exploration Rover Mission, Cornell, JPL, NASA)

Dunkin’ Donuts has decided to shelve its plans to give out franchises on Mars after NASA’s rover Opportunity reportedly found a jelly donut-like rock.

If there is a jelly donut on Mars, there ought to be policemen (cheap stereotypical jibe) and if there are policemen, there must be criminals and if there are criminals there must be a form of Martian society that engenders crime. Ergo, there’s life on Mars.

If only it was that simple, there would not be a writ of mandamus against the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) by Rhawn Joseph, a Santa Clara, California based astrobiologist. At the heart of the writ is the contention by Dr. Joseph that NASA’s rover team “inexplicably failed” to investigate what that jelly donut-like object is. In suing NASA, Joseph has claimed that in his analysis the object could well be “a mushroom-like fungus, a composite organism consisting of colonies of lichen and cyanobacteria, and which on Earth is known as Apothecium.” Or in simple terms, a biological organism possibly indicating the existence of some form of life.

The implication in Joseph’s writ seems to be that for whatever reasons NASA has either chosen not to fully investigate the object or, if it has, it is not letting the world know what it really is. If it is a biological organism, its implications are supposed to be enormous from scientific, philosophical, cultural and religious standpoints. I say “supposed to be” because I really do not know why life elsewhere should change anything. Earth alone has been home to some truly bizarre life forms for a very long time and they all live together to the best possible extent.

If life could evolve on a planet (Earth) whose distance from the sun varies between 91 million miles (146 million km) at its closest to 94.5 million miles (152 million km) at its farthest, there is nothing terribly breathtaking about life in some form evolving on Mars. At its closest, Mars is 128 million miles (206 million km) from the sun. On average, Mars is 141 million miles (228 million km) from the sun. Sunlight takes 8 minutes to reach Earth and a little over 12 minutes to reach Mars. At the speed of light (186,000 miles per second—about 300,000 kilometers per second) this is a considerable gap but I am guessing it should not make much difference in helping life evolve there if all other life-inducing conditions have existed on Mars at some point.

The Rhawn Joseph v. NASA is an interesting story in so much as it helps find out if NASA has been on to something and keeping from us. Purely as a realization that there may be some biology happening there, I don’t think we should go into paroxysms. We know our planet is bursting with life. It is almost as if there is not a corner on this planet where there is no life. People get excited about life elsewhere for understandable reasons because one of the outcomes of such a discovery would be a direct challenge, if not negation altogether, of humankind’s fixed ideas about things in the universe. We are a race that wants to be unique and yet, at the same time, desperate to be common.

It requires no scientific training to know that if there is life on Mars, it is unlikely to harbor any anthropic ideas. It would be tragic if life elsewhere turns out to be similar to us in that its members indulge in drag racing and drunk driving or sticking their tongues out and twerking.

Coming back to the jelly donut lawsuit, I have closely looked at the images that NASA has released of the spot where the object has been found. The first image below is before and after taken 12 sols apart at the same spot.


I have cropped the spot in question from the two days to see if there is any disturbance in Martian surface that might indicate a meteor falling. All rocks and pebbles look pretty much undisturbed to me. That makes one question whether the object is something the NASA rover’s wheels might have scooped up or even it is something that fell from the sky. On the face of it, it would not look that way, especially because the surface around it looks identical 12 sols apart. To lend my deduction some authenticity I have even circled and arrowed the spot.



As you can see, everything around the object looks undisturbed. That may, just may, suggest that the object might have actually grown there and eventually withered away. Or another plausible explanation could be that after ten years on Mars Opportunity might have overcome its constipation. (Pardon my mocking).

Whichever way one looks at it, this is a terrific story. All parties involved need to be commended for a serious approach to what is truly a remarkable accomplishment for a section of the human race.


About chutiumsulfate

South Asians can infer from my name what I am. View all posts by chutiumsulfate

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