NASA rover discovers mysterious light-toned boulder "never observed before" on Mars

While exploring a crater on Mars that may give scientists insights into life that potentially once existed there, NASA said its Perseverance rover made an unprecedented discovery. The rover, which landed on the Red Planet in 2021 specifically to probe the ancient Jezero crater, found a mysterious light-toned boulder earlier this month that was the first of its kind seen on Martian land.

Perseverance encountered the boulder while traversing the Neretva Vallis, a dried river delta that flowed into the crater billions of years ago, on its way to an area inside the rim where rocky outcrops are being examined for sediment that could shed light on Mars' history, said NASA. The rover had changed course along its route to avoid rough terrain when, traveling a short cut through a dune field, it reached a hill that scientists have dubbed Mount Washburn.

The hill was covered with boulders, some of which NASA described as belonging to "a type never observed before on Mars."

One small boulder particularly intrigued the scientists working with Perseverance from Earth. Measuring roughly 18 inches across and 14 inches tall, the speckled and conspicuously light-toned rock was spotted among a field of darker boulders on the hill.

"The diversity of textures and compositions at Mount Washburn was an exciting discovery for the team, as these rocks represent a grab bag of geologic gifts brought down from the crater rim and potentially beyond," said Brad Garczynski of Western Washington University, who co-leads the current Perseverance mission, in a statement. "But among all these different rocks, there was one that really caught our attention."