China has released the first batch of science images from its Zhurong Mars rover, following its successful landing on the Red Planet on 14 May.
In one picture, seen above, Zhurong carefully orchestrated a group selfie with its landing platform. To do this, the rover travelled 10 metres south, released a small wireless camera attached to its bottom, then headed back towards the lander to pose for the shot.
A panoramic shot taken directly from Zhurong (below) shows surface features and the distant horizon, but also lighter surface areas created by the venting of leftover fuel by the landing platform, performed as a safety measure. Also visible to the south (top left) are the parachute and protective shell that helped Zhurong land safely.
The update confirms that Zhurong has been active on Mars, despite a lack of information from the China National Space Administration since the rover crawled on to the surface on May 22.
The silence has been partly due to the challenges of sending large batches of data back to Earth over distances of hundreds of millions of kilometres. The Tianwen-1 orbiter, which carried Zhurong to Mars, passes over the rover’s location in Utopia Planitia once every Martian day to relay data from the rover to Earth.
Teams in China will now use the images to make a travel plan for Zhurong. Among the rover’s science instruments are panoramic and multispectral cameras for imaging and analysing its surroundings and a ground-penetrating radar which will peer below the surface for evidence of water and ice.
On 10 May the University of Arizona released an image (above) taken by the HiRise camera aboard NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, showing that Zhurong had been on the move.
Zhurong is China’s first Mars rover and is part of the Tianwen-1 mission, which is also the country’s first independent interplanetary excursion.
The rover is 1.8 metres tall and weighs 240 kilograms, making it comparable to NASA’s Spirit and Opportunity rovers which landed in 2004, but much smaller than the roughly one-tonne, Curiosity and Perseverance rovers.
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