China’s Zhurong rover beams back its first Mars images

It’s not just NASA that has a rover on the red planet. China made its first Mars rover landing just a few days ago, and on Wednesday, the nation’s space agency posted the first images of the vehicle in its new surroundings.

The black-and-white picture below was snapped by China’s Zhurong rover using one of its obstacle-avoidance cameras attached to the front of the vehicle. It shows the lander’s ramp extending to the surface of Mars, creating a sturdy path for the six-wheeled vehicle to safely reach the Martian surface. “The terrain of the rover’s forward direction is clearly visible in the image,” the China National Space Administration (CNSA) said in notes accompanying the pictures, adding that the horizon appears curved due to the camera’s wide-angle lens.

Mars this way: A view from China’s Zhurong rover shortly before it drove down the ramp onto the Martian surface. CNSA

The second photo was captured by the navigation camera attached to the back of Zhurong. You can clearly see the rover’s solar panels and antenna, with Mars’ familiar red soil and rocks also visible in the image.

CNSA

In putting Zhurong on Mars, China’s ambitious Tianwen-1 mission has become the first to successfully deploy an orbiter, lander, and rover in a single expedition. China’s rover achievement follows the U.S. to become only the second country to put such a vehicle on Mars and only the third to land a spacecraft on the red planet after the U.S. and Russia. The latest developments mean there are now three operational rovers on the faraway planet — NASA’s Curiosity and Perseverance rovers and China’s Zhurong vehicle.

Similar to NASA’s Perseverance rover, Zhurong will study the Martian landscape for evidence of ancient life and also analyze the planet’s environment. To do this, the rover will use a suite of onboard scientific tools that includes cameras, radars, and sensors. China’s orbiter, meanwhile, is seeking to learn more about Mars’ atmosphere and climate while also mapping the planet’s surface.

Zhurong will be exploring an area on Mars known as Utopia Planitia. The location is around 1,000 miles from Jezero Crater, where Perseverance is located, so there’s no chance of the two newly arrived rovers coming face to face during their respective missions.

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