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NASA Mars orbiter spots China’s rover on Martian surface

Image showing China's Zhurong Mars rover just to the south of the lander.

A NASA satellite has captured a dramatic view (above) of China’s Zhurong rover on the surface of Mars.

The picture was taken by the space agency’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) using its High Resolution Imaging Experiment (HiRISE) camera. Taken at an altitude of about 180 miles, the image shows the rover a little to the south of the Chinese lander that delivered Zhurong to the Martian surface last month. The marks around the lander are described as a “blast pattern” that was caused as it approached the ground during the landing procedure.

“This image shows the surrounding terrain to be very typical of southern Utopia Planitia, with a smooth and mostly boulder-free region,” the University of Arizona’s HiRISE team said on its website, adding that the bright curving features in the photograph are “aeolian (windblown) landforms.”

Another image (below) captured by the HiRISE camera shows the lander’s parachute and back shell, which came down some way from Zhurong after the components were discarded in the final stages of descent.

The back shell and parachute from Zhurong rover's Mars lander.

Last month, China released an image of Zhurong prior to departing the lander, then released another image several days later, showing its view after trundling off the lander and onto the Martian surface.

Its arrival means the red planet is currently home to three active rovers: China’s Zhurong, plus NASA’s Curiosity and recently-arrived Perseverance.

Zhurong, which is named after a fire god from traditional Chinese legends, has six wheels and weighs 529 pounds (240 kilograms). China’s vehicle is notable for being the first Mars rover to feature an active suspension system designed to help it better handle rocky terrain.

The rover is part of China’s groundbreaking Tianwen-1 mission that became the first to successfully deploy an orbiter, lander, and rover in a single expedition. Zhurong will explore the faraway planet for signs of past life and also study the Martian environment. The orbiter will attempt to find out more about Mars’ atmosphere and climate, and at the same time, gather mapping data of the planet’s surface.

Meanwhile, NASA’s own Mars mission, which reached the planet in February, has been busy with test flights of its Ingenuity helicopter, which in April became the first aircraft to achieve controlled, powered flight on another planet. Its Perseverance rover is also exploring the red planet in search of signs of ancient life as well as gathering data that could pave the way for a crewed mission in the coming decades.

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