NASA Mars orbiter spots China’s rover on Martian surface

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

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

The image 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 bit to the south of the Chinese lander that delivered Zurong to the Martian surface last month. The markings around the lander have been described as an “explosion pattern”, which was caused by the close approach to the ground during the landing process.

“This image shows the area around southern Utopia Planitia very conspicuous, with a smooth and mostly boulder-free area,” said the HiRISE team from the University of Arizona. said on its website, saying that the dazzlingly curved features in the photo are “aeolian (windblown) landforms.”

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

The back shell and parachute from the Mars lander of the Jurong rover.

Last month, China released an image of Zurong before it departed from the lander, then released another image several days later, showing the lander traversing and its view on the Martian surface.

Its arrival means the Red Planet is currently home to three active rovers: China’s Zurong, plus NASA’s Curiosity and the more recent Perseverance.

The Zurong, named after the fire god of traditional Chinese legends, has six wheels and weighs 529 pounds (240 kg). 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 unprecedented Tianwen-1 mission that became the first to successfully deploy an orbiter, lander and rover in a single mission. Zurong will explore the distant planet for signs of past life and will also study the Martian atmosphere. The orbiter will attempt to learn more about the atmosphere and climate of Mars, and, at the same time, collect mapping data of the planet’s surface.

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

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