China has released the first photographs taken by its Zhurong rover, which touched down on Mars late on Friday (May 14) as part of the country’s Tianwen-1 mission.
The China National Space Administration (CNSA), which runs the mission, has released two Mars photographs taken by the rover: one in color and one in black and white. Both images show parts of the rover and its lander against a backdrop of Utopia Planitia, the expansive northern plain that Zhurong will explore during its mission.
The color image shows a view looking to the rear of Zhurong from a navigation camera above the rover’s main deck. Solar arrays are visible, as are some surface rocks and features. The black and white image is from an obstacle avoidance camera at the front of the rover. It was captured with a wide-angle lens that also revealed a view of the Mars horizon in the distance, as well as two subsurface radar instruments on the rover itself.
In addition to the photos from the surface, CNSA also released two short videos of the orbiter and Zhurong rover’s landing capsule separating during Friday’s maneuver. Both videos come from cameras on the orbiter and show the capsule pulling away.
China’s successful Mars landing made the country only the second nation to successfully soft-land on Mars, joining the United States. The Soviet Union and the European Space Agency have also sent missions to the Red Planet’s surface, but those landings have not been successful. Zhurong’s arrival brings the active Mars rover tally to three, joining NASA’s Curiosity and Perseverance rovers.
The landing comes as part of China’s Tianwen-1 mission, which was also the nation’s first successful Mars orbiter; China was the sixth entity to notch that accomplishment in February. Tianwen-1 translates to “Heavenly Questions”; the name Zhurong honors an ancient Chinese fire god.
The six-wheeled, 530-lb. (240 kilogram) Zhurong rover carries six instruments that the rover will use to study geology and climate in the Utopia Planitia region. The rover is meant to operate for about three months.
Zhurong’s next milestone is expected to occur on Friday or Saturday (May 21 or May 22), when the rover will make its way down the pair of ramps seen in the new greyscale image to reach the Martian surface proper.
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