China’s Mars rover Zhurong landed on the red planet’s surface on May 14as a part of the nation’s first interplanetary space mission Tianwen-1. The rover has landed on the western edge of Utopia Planitia, a plain site of geological importance in the Planitia impact basin on Mars. The images from the rover are yet to arrive, but the location data of the landed explorer has geologists excited as they hope to discover shorelines of ancient oceans and mud volcanoes. The features of the rover’s landing location indicate a possibility of the presence of subsurface ice, which is making scientists hopeful that the rover could find the samples of ice below its landing surface. According to the scientists, there is also a strong possibility of collecting samples from a mud volcano, a landform type that has not been visited by any Mars rover yet. Zhurong has landed 1,800 kilometres northeast of NASA’s Perseverance rover, which landed in February 2021.
Scientists are studying satellite images and geological maps to pinpoint the location of the rover and the significant features of the landing site. They are also looking at the images taken by NASA’s earlier missions. The next step for the scientists at the China National Space Administration (CNSA) is to check if the rover’s instruments are functioning as expected.
According to Long Xiao, a planetary geologist at the Chinese University of Geosciences atWuhan, the 90-day long mission is a tantalizing opportunity to influence Zhurong’s journey for scientists across China. “We want to propose the plan for the rover,” added Xiao in his statement to an article published in Nature.
The Chinese Mars exploration mission sent an orbiter, a lander and a rover to Mars, which was launched by CNSA on July 23, 2020. The rover landed on the surface on Friday last week after being detached from the orbiter. With this successful landing, Zhurong became the third active Mars rover after NASA’s Curiosity and Perseverance.