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Conspiracy Theorist Sues NASA, Wastes Everybody's Time

The "jelly doughnut" rock found next to Opportunity is the focus of a new lawsuit

Posted by Casey Dreier

31-01-2014 13:30 CST

Topics: citizen science, Opportunity, mission status, Mars Exploration Rovers, spacecraft, Mars

A lawsuit filed earlier this week alleges that NASA is ignoring clear evidence for alien life on Mars, claiming that the rock that recently appeared next to the Opportunity rover is not a rock at all, but some type of fungus.

The rock, described as a "jelly doughnut" due to its dark interior and light exterior, is the source of strong scientific and public interest. Scientists on the team are still debating how it got there, but the most accepted theory is that it popped out from under one of the rover's wheels during a drive. The rock appears to have been flipped upside down, exposing a surface not seen for potentially billions of years.

Opportunity sees a new rock on Mars
NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell Univ./Arizona State Univ.

Opportunity's science team maintains a strong interest in the rock and is continuing investigations, but that's not good enough for the Petitioner in this lawsuit.

The petitioner, who apparently hasn't bothered to follow the mission closely enough to understand that high-resolution images take time to download from Mars, that Opportunity's arm has limited movement due to her advanced age, and that scientists would be jumping for joy at the tiniest hint of biology on another planet, asserts the following as part of their lawsuit/rant:

"The refusal to take close up photos from various angles, the refusal to take microscopic images of the specimen, the refusal to release high resolution photos, is inexplicable, recklessly negligent, and bizarre. Any intelligent adult, adolescent, child, chimpanzee, monkey, dog, or rodent with even a modicum of curiosity, would approach, investigate and closely examine a bowl-shaped structure which appears just a few feet in front of them when 12 days earlier they hadn’t noticed it. But not NASA and its rover team who have refused to take even a single close up photo."

Taking aim into the world's tiniest barrel, I spent two seconds searching Google and found Opportunity's latest high-resolution pictures from the microscopic imager focusing on the new rock. You can read the full suit here, which is kind of fascinating in its own way, and a great example of how not to write about science or argue persuasively.

Unfortunately, since this is a real lawsuit, NASA was forced to engage its general counsel and has to actually spend time on this problem before it (likely) gets dismissed:

"This is an ongoing legal matter and we are limited in what we can discuss about the filing," said Bob Jacobs, NASA's Deputy Associate Administrator for Communications. "However, NASA has been publicly sharing our ongoing research into the rock dubbed 'Pinnacle Island' since we originally released the images from the Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity earlier this month. The rock, which NASA is studying to better understand its chemical composition, also was widely discussed during a Jan. 22 NASA Television news conference. As we do with all our scientific research missions, NASA will continue to discuss any new data regarding the rock and other images and information as new data becomes available."

I'm glad to see that even after ten years of exploring Mars, Opportunity can still generate such intense public interest.

See other posts from January 2014


Or read more blog entries about: citizen science, Opportunity, mission status, Mars Exploration Rovers, spacecraft, Mars


Anonymous: 01/31/2014 01:54 CST

Why is it that you can achieve so much, and yet the rest of the world still thinks "only in America....sighhhhhh"

Bob Ware: 02/01/2014 11:26 CST

Does anyone know if there is a chance he could be stuck with the legal bills when his loss in this case is decided??

-bob: 02/01/2014 01:24 CST

We can hope, but I would not bet too much on a quick dismissal or looser pays suddenly being invoked in "United States District Court Northern District of *CALIFORNIA*"...

Anonymous: 02/01/2014 03:50 CST

As the writer of the first comment I would like to make the following points; 1-I am English, not American. 2-As usual Americans ALWAYS fall into the trap of thinking that because you CAN say something- you SHOULD say something. 3-I think the above posts validate my reasoning behind posting in the first place. 4-Despite all this, I LOVE you're patriotism (up to a point) Please note; with freedom comes responsibility.

Anonymous: 02/01/2014 05:03 CST

5-Please disregard everything I have said. The fact that I have engaged in this type of dialog is an insult to everything The Planetary Society stands for.(If I presume too much, my apologies) Best regards to you all.

Torbj??rn Larsson: 02/01/2014 05:21 CST

The petitioner is the same crackpot that drives the irritating JOC website, which is dragging astrobiology in the mud. Poor NASA. @bob: Making fun of those with religious (aka creationist) beliefs is as justified as making fun of astrologists and homeopaths. The only difference is that creationists believes in special pleading instead of shame. Steve established credulity, in a fun way, which is after all the problem here.

Arbitrary: 02/01/2014 08:26 CST

UFO-lawyers? Well, maybe with some judo their interest of the subject of "space" might become useful? Maybe misguided attention is better than no attention. They certainly reach another crowd and if by link to link they end up at Planetary Society, then there was progress. We should see ourselves not as their enemies, but as their care takers. They need help.

Starla Day: 02/01/2014 09:20 CST

Just thinking: What if it isn't a mold? It looks like a piece of smashed paper, or perhaps smashed white plastic. If we have probes on Mars, isn't it likely that we are not the only ones doing the same? What if others left a piece of parasol there? Could that be a piece of the rover's parasol itself that blew thaw way by mars wind? If Mars has dust storms, it has wind, and wind would have carried whatever that is to that place, I would think.

Brian Schmidt: 02/02/2014 11:14 CST

The good news is this case won't take much time. He cites no legal authority and claims the right to sue based on "taxpayer standing" which is generally rejected (a few specific exceptions in state law, not applicable here.) He filed "pro se" meaning no lawyer would represent him. A judge could attempt to fine him or get NASA's costs paid for a frivolous lawsuit, but probably won't unless this is repeat behavior or unless he tries to waste time with more court motions.

John Burch: 02/03/2014 08:36 CST

With a bit of luck it will be a cheap 'outreach' for NASA as its likely to garner quite a bit of press coverage.

Casey Dreier: 02/03/2014 02:46 CST

As happy as I am to see posts generating lots of discussion, I do want to remind certain users to stay on-topic, avoid pointless political provocation, and to keep the subject matter appropriate for all audiences. Comments violating these standards will be removed. This isn't YouTube, folks.

buzz: 02/03/2014 06:57 CST

I got one question for the author of this article. Do you believe everything that nasa tells you? I feel that anything to get the govt to tell the whole truth , even a lawsuit should be fine with any American that would question the information you are being spoonfed by nasa.

-bob: 02/03/2014 10:33 CST

@casey I do object to the censorship though. As I recall I made three points in my deleted post: 1. A comment pointing out that maybe attacking religious beliefs was perhaps not appropriate. 2. An admittedly questionable comment countering Steve's partisan jibe. 3. A comparison of the antagonist in your article with "Climate Change Alarmists". Assuming that it was not the third item that got my post deleted it would be interesting to explore in this forum. I know that moderating something like this is difficult, and you certainly have better things to do.

Casey Dreier: 02/04/2014 12:46 CST

@buzz: On science issues: yes. Also, most scientists working on the rover are not NASA employees.

Casey Dreier: 02/04/2014 12:47 CST

-bob: I must have deleted an extra post of yours by mistake. Those topics are fine as long as everyone keeps a respectful tone (not always easy). And yes, I'd prefer to do other things, which is why it's nice that this happens relatively rarely.

Anonymous: 02/08/2014 03:37 CST

It looks most like a mandible of a snake-like creature, or some other creature with two long, sharp , curved teeth, bilaterally on a symmetrical jaw. The question is mostly whether life evolved endogenously on M'ars, or whether ilife established on Mars from somewhere else.shaning

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