Part of the black and white image of Mars taken by China's Zhurong rover. Credit: CNSA / PEC

China Lands on Mars—Here Are The First Surface Images

China became only the second country after the United States to photograph the surface of the Red Planet.

China’s Zhurong finally sent images from the surface of Mars. The photographs confirmed that the solar panels and antenna deployed successfully and will help specialists build the rover’s movement plan.


Zhurong landed in the south of the Utopia Plain in the northern hemisphere of Mars on May 15, 2021, as part of the first Chinese Mars mission, Tianwen-1.

The mass of the six-wheeled rover is 240 kilograms, the payload includes cameras, a ground-penetrating radar, a magnetometer, a weather station, and a soil analyzer.

It is expected that the rover will not only demonstrate its viability for 90 Martian days (with the possibility of an extension) but also conduct surface and subsurface studies of the soil.

One of the images of Mars taken by the rear camera of China's rover. The antenna of the rover and its solar panels are visible. Credit: CNSA / PEC
One of the images of Mars taken by the rear camera of China’s rover. The antenna of the rover and its solar panels are visible. Credit: CNSA / PEC

People around the world were definitely surprised when China did not show images of the Mars landing shortly after it happened or on the same day. I’d say we are too used to NASA’s practices nowadays that we expect to see everything in real-time.

Unfortunately, Chinese astronautics is at a completely different level, it is not as well developed as Western. The Americans have three orbiters around the Red Planet – “Mars Odyssey”, “Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter”, and “Maven”.

When the newest rover Perseverance landed in February, the orbiters had the opportunity to relay data directly from the descent to Earth – a picture was taken immediately afterward. It arrived on Earth in almost real-time and the whole world saw it.

The moment of separation of the rover capsule from the orbital probe. Credit: CNSA / PEC
The moment of separation of the rover capsule from the orbital probe. Credit: CNSA / PEC

However, the Chinese have only one orbiter around Mars – this is the very orbital section of “Tianwen” which brought the rover to Mars.

At the time of the landing, the orbiter was not in the optimal position to transmit data to Earth. It took several days before any telemetry or imagery could be transmitted back to us.

The orbiter needed a couple of days to adjust its parameters so that its orbital period can be reduced from 2 days to 8 hours. This way there will be more opportunities to communicate with the Zhurong rover. This became official on May 17 when it entered its new near-Martian eight-hour orbit.

The entire black and white image of the surface of Mars. Credit: CNSA / PEC

The new images from China’s mission on Mars show elements of the rover, standing on the landing platform, as well as the immediate vicinity, covered with sand and small stones.

As you can see from the photo above, there are no steep cliffs in the landing area. Thus, the terrain differs significantly from that photographed by “Viking 2” in the 70s in the northern part of Utopia.

Zhurong will operate in an area reminiscent of those filmed by more modern US missions such as InSight. This is great news – there are no obstacles to prevent the rover from descending the ramp and exploring the planet.

The images confirmed that the solar panels and rover antenna were deployed successfully. In addition, Chinese experts showed an animation from images taken by the orbiting probe, showing the detachment of the capsule with the rover.

The date of the rover’s departure from the landing platform has not yet been determined. At present, experts are studying the images to determine the future path of the rover.


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Sources:

Kooser, A. (2021, May 18). China’s Zhurong rover landed on Mars, but we might have to wait awhile for the first photos. CNET.
Mallapaty, S. (2021, May 18). Why the China Mars rover’s landing site has geologists excited. Nature News.
Myers, S. L. (2021, May 19). China Releases First Photos From Its Mars Lander. The New York Times.
中国的航天. (n.d.). Broad netizens, the “Image of Mars” you are thinking of is coming~~.

Written by Vladislav Tchakarov

Hello, my name is Vladislav and I am glad to have you here on Curiosmos. My experience as a freelance writer began in 2018 but I have been part of the Curiosmos family since mid-2020. As a history student, I have a strong passion for history and science, and the opportunity to research and write in this field on a daily basis is a dream come true.

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