China's Mars Rover Sends Back Proof of Landing

First 2 pics show Zhurong is successfully communicating from Utopia Planitia
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted May 19, 2021 9:35 AM CDT
See the First Photos From China's Mars Rover
Extension arms and a departure ramp are deployed in this black-and-white photo taken by China's Zhurong rover on the surface of Mars.   (China National Space Administration via AP)

China has become only the second nation after the United States to successfully put a craft on Mars and operate it for a significant amount of time, reports the BBC. Its Zhurong rover touched down on the red planet over the weekend, and now we have the first photos as proof. Two photos were released Wednesday, one showing a mostly clear landscape stretching in front of a departure ramp as the rover sits on its landing platform, and another showing its unfolded solar panels and communications antenna to the rear. The Chinese team hopes the rover will be able to explore its location in Utopia Planitia—the 2,000-mile-wide basin in Mars' northern hemisphere, formed by a long-ago impact, which NASA's Viking 2 lander first explored in 1976—for at least 90 days. It will descend to the surface soon, once final preparations are made, per New Scientist.

Radio signals suggest the rover is some 1,100 miles northeast of Perseverance, the US rover that arrived in February, and near "the boundary between Mars' northern lowlands and southern highlands," which "might have been the shoreline for an ancient ocean that once covered the planet's north," reports Nature. Less than 2 miles northwest of Zhurong is a cone-shaped feature that might be a mud volcano, which no Mars rover has visited before. But Yuyan Zhao, a planetary geochemist at Guiyang's Institute of Geochemistry, Chinese Academy of Sciences, tells Nature that Zhurong is only expected to cover the length of several football fields over three months. It could, however, remain functional far longer. Its instruments include a spectrometer, which can analyze the composition of rocks, and ground-penetrating radar, which can search for water ice. (More Mars stories.)

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