NASA’s Perseverance rover makes ‘unexpected’ discovery about volcanic lava on red planet

NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover has made a remarkable discovery, the agency reported on Wednesday, when scientists discovered the six-wheeled machine has been traversing on the site of an ancient Martian lake where magma once flowed.

According to NASA researchers, the rover’s latest findings were "completely unexpected," as it was previously speculated that the land the rover is traveling on was sedimentary, not hardened lava. 

When Perseverance first arrived, scientists knew the rover was landing on an ancient lakebed. But they initially thought the material of the land was made up of sediment from rocks and other geological material deposited by the lake. The discovery confirms that the material is actually rock hardened from flowing magma which adds clues to the history of the region.

NASA scientists say the discovery will help them better understand the geological timeline of events that took place in the Jezero Crater, where the rover is exploring. 

The crater is also the site of an ancient lake. The discovery of the volcanic surface will also serve to help better understand the history of the red planet, scientists say. 

"Even before Perseverance touched down on Mars, the mission’s science team had wondered about the origin of the rocks in the area. Were they sedimentary – the compressed accumulation of mineral particles possibly carried to the location by an ancient river system? Or where they igneous, possibly born in lava flows rising to the surface from a now long-extinct Martian volcano?" NASA wrote in a press release.

Perseverance arrived in February at Mars’ Jezero Crater — a former lakebed and river delta — in search of rocks that could contain evidence of past Martian life. Future spacecraft will collect the specimens and deliver them to Earth a decade from now. The rover has more than 40 sample tubes.

In September, the rover completed its first sample grab, tucking away the tube of rock for return to Earth.

The Perseverance rover team confirmed the successful drilling and collection earlier this year, after reviewing photos of the core sample. NASA wanted to be certain the sample was safe inside the titanium tube, before sharing the news Monday.

During Perseverance’s first sampling attempt in early August, the unexpectedly soft rock crumbled. Flight controllers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, sought out harder rock for the second try.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.