China has released new images from its Zhurong rover, which began wheeling its way around Mars in late May. One of the photos is a lovely selfie of Zhurong posed next to its landing platform. The “touring group photo,” as the China National Space Administration calls it in a blog post, was taken with a small wireless camera that the rover placed on the surface before scooting back to line up for the shot like an excited parent.
Zhurong also took a photo of the landing platform by itself, showing the ramp the rover drove down, the Chinese flag, and if you look closely to the left of the flag, the mascots for the Beijing Winter Olympics.
The update confirms that Zhurong has been active on Mars, despite a lack of information from the China National Space Administration since the rover crawled on to the surface on 22 May.
The silence has been partly due to the challenges of sending large batches of data back to Earth over distances of hundreds of millions of kilometres. The Tianwen-1 orbiter, which carried Zhurong to Mars, passes over the rover’s location in Utopia Planitia once every Martian day to relay data from the rover to Earth.
Teams in China will now use the images to make a travel plan for Zhurong. Among the rover’s science instruments are panoramic and multispectral cameras for imaging and analysing its surroundings and a ground-penetrating radar which will peer below the surface for evidence of water and ice.
Zhurong is China’s first Mars rover and is part of the Tianwen-1 mission, which is also the country’s first independent interplanetary excursion.
The rover is 1.8 metres tall and weighs 240 kilograms, making it comparable to NASA’s Spirit and Opportunity rovers, which landed in 2004, but much smaller than the roughly 1-tonne, Curiosity and Perseverance rovers.