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NASA Curiosity rover investigates mysterious shiny Mars boulder

It's big and dark, and it could be a meteorite or an escapee from elsewhere.

NASA's Curiosity rover snapped this view of the dark, shiny boulder on Mars on Dec. 6.
NASA/JPL-Caltech/Red circle by Amanda Kooser/CNET

NASA's Curiosity rover is a science laboratory on wheels, but its team back on Earth relies on its "eyes" to point out unusual items of interest on Mars. The rover just spotted a conspicuous boulder in the distance that's worth a closer look.

The Curiosity team described the boulder as large, dark and shiny. Planetary geologist Melissa Rice from Western Washington University noted it "does not look like any other rocks in the surrounding landscape" in a rover mission update on Monday. 

The rover team spotted the boulder as an odd object in a wider landscape view. 

The boulder's distinct color indicates it might be a visitor from space. The rover has spotted similar-looking rocks in the past that are also dark and shiny and were confirmed to be iron meteorites. 

Another possibility is that the boulder came from elsewhere on Mount Sharp, the massive central peak in the Gale Crater where the rover is exploring. Curiosity's Mastcam camera system should be able to tell the difference.  

The researchers named the boulder "Island Davaar" after an island in Scotland and plan to take a better look at it as Curiosity continues to make it way up Mount Sharp. 

If Island Davaar turns out to be a large meteorite, it will provide a neat contrast to a goofy little meteorite named "Egg Rock" the rover discovered back in 2016. On Mars, the meteorites come in all sizes.

This minor Mars mystery is a good reminder of the Curiosity rover's ongoing adventures, even as we wait for the next-generation Perseverance rover to reach the red planet in February. Curiosity continues to surprise and delight with its discoveries.