Mars Orbiter captures images of China’s rover from space


China’s Tianwen-1 lander and Zhurong rover touched down on the Martian plain Utopia Planitia on May 14, 2021 after spending around three months in orbit around the Red Planet. While the China Space Agency shared images of the rover and lander (including a cute family portrait taken by a wireless remote camera), NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter followed the rover’s journeys from at the top.

Tianwen-1 Lander and Zhurong Rover in southern Utopia Planitia shortly after landing in May 2021. Credit: NASA/JPL/UArizona

At the start of the Zhurong mission, the HiRISE camera on MRO spotted the lander and rover, seen from orbit. Our main image is the latest view from HiRISE, showing the rover’s path and new location, allowing us to track how far the rover has traveled in the 10 months since it landed. This image was acquired on March 11, 2022.

This tweet from the HiRISE teams shows views of various hardware on the surface of Mars from the Chinese mission, such as the lander and the backshell.

But in this image below shows Zhurong’s entire journey, and if you look closely (click this link to zoom in on the image) you can even see the rover’s tracks. The HiRISE team wrote on their blog that “Its exact path can be traced from the wheel tracks left on the surface. It traveled south about 1.5 kilometers (about 1 mile). “The imaging team actually added contrast to make the tracks more visible.

HiRISE image showing tracks and the most recent imaged location of the Zhurong rover. Credit: NASA/JPL/UArizona. Click here for the full image on the HiRISE site.

Like most cameras orbiting Mars, HiRISE acquires images in long, thin strips. Due to the configuration of the camera detectors – with 10 detectors lined up in an array – each strip is approximately 5 kilometers wide. But HiRISE has two extra pairs of detectors on the two middle bands to get color data, so there is a middle color band about 1 kilometer wide.

MRO orbits about 316 km (250 miles) above the Martian surface. At this altitude, it can take photos of Mars with resolutions of 0.3 m/pixel (about 1 foot); therefore, it can resolve objects less than one meter in diameter. With that kind of power, it can spot the various Mars landers and rovers on the surface, including Curiosity and Perseverance. HiRISE even captured these two as they parachuted down to the surface.

The Mars 2020 descent stage containing NASA’s Perseverance rover can be seen dropping into the Martian atmosphere, its parachute trailing behind, in this image taken February 18, 2021 by the HiRISE camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Credit: NASA/JPL/UArizona

HiRISE team member Richard Leis said on Twitter that due to the vast territory covered by the HiRISE image strips, it always takes time and skill to spot man-made artifacts. on the surface of Mars:

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