Baffling boulders have been discovered on Mars by an international group of students who won the chance to look at Mars through the camera on board NASA’s Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft.

The students stumbled upon a surprising cluster of dark-colored boulders, situated in the middle of light-colored terrain. Their discovery has baffled Mars scientists, who don’t know how the boulders got there or what geological history they represent.

“It’s puzzling,” says Michael Carr of the U.S. Geological Survey. “I looked at a few pictures around [the area] and couldn’t find anything to explain it. Very puzzling! These are huge boulders. There are no indications of any outcrops that could shed such boulders.”

“The location and nature of these boulders is unusual, but their shape and distribution-in respect to the slope upon which they sit-is consistent with a boulder shattered by weathering. The fall to their present location could also have broken the boulders apart,” says Dr. Michael Malin, of Malin Space Science Systems, the company that operates the Mars Orbiter Camera aboard the spacecraft. “The mystery is why so much of the rest of the slope is smooth and devoid of blocks.”

The students who discovered the unusual rocks range in age from 10 to 16. They were chosen through an essay contest that attracted more than 10,000 entries. The four girls and five boys are from Brazil, Hungary, India, Poland, Taiwan and the U.S. “This kind of opportunity makes me wish I were a student again,” says Michelle Viotti of JPL.

For the Linda Moulton Howe story, click here.

To read JPL’s statement, click here.

Visit the Student Scientists website and be inspired.

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