China’s Zhurong rover landed on Mars on May 15, after spending seven months travelling from Earth and three months orbiting Mars. The robot has since sent a batch of images back.
One photo is of itself on Mars – a “selfie”. A second includes the rocket-powered platform that brought the rover to a soft touchdown, from which the vehicle drove down a ramp to get on to the surface. Both machines are adorned with Chinese flags.
There was also a picture looking out over the horizon from the landing site, an ancient impact basin in Mars’ northern hemisphere known as ‘Utopia Planitia’. The plain is the largest impact basin in the solar system, with an estimated diameter of 2050 miles.
These images were taken by a wireless camera carried by a tall mast, which also acts as the rover’s ‘eye’ to detect obstacles. The pictures were released by the Chinese space agency in celebration of the successful mission and the rover’s first month on the Red Planet, and introduced by the mission’s chief designer, Zhang Rongqiao.
The rover has six wheels and weighs 240kg, leaving visible tracks in the dust as it manoeuvred. Scientists are hoping to get at least 90 Martian days out of the robot. American space agency, Nasa, had two very similar vehicles in the 2000’s, ‘Spirit’ and ‘Opportunity’. Zhurong has a laser tool to zap rocks and assess their chemistry, much like the current American rovers, ‘Curiosity’ and ‘Perseverance’. It also has the ability to look for sub-surface water-ice due to a radar similar to that of Perseverance. This is to investigate whether Mark ever sustained life.