NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Captures Images of China’s Rover From Space

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C̳h̳i̳n̳a̳’s Tianwen-1 lander and Zhurong rover landed on the Martian plain of Utopia Planitia on May 14, 2021 after spending about three months orbiting the Red Planet. While the C̳h̳i̳n̳a̳ Space Administration has shared images of the submersible and lander (including a cute family portrait taken with a wireless remote camera), the Star Reconnaissance Orbiter NASA’s Mars tracked the rover’s journey from above.

NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Captures Images of China’s Rover From Space

Early on in the Zhurong mission, the HiRISE camera on MRO spotted the lander and rover, as seen from orbit. Our lead image is the latest view from HiRISE, showing the rover’s path and new location, letting us follow along on how far the rover has traveled in the 10 months since it landed. This image was acquired on March 11, 2022.

NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Captures Images of China’s Rover From Space
Tianwen-1 Lander and Zhurong Rover in Southern Utopia Planitia shortly after landing in May 2021. Credit: NASA/JPL/UArizona

This tweet from the HiRISE teams shows views of the various pieces of hardware on the Martian surface from the Chinese mission, such as the lander and the rear shell.

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

NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Captures Images of China’s Rover From Space

Like most Mars orbiting cameras, HiRISE acquires images in long, thin strips. Because of how the camera detectors are set up – with 10 detectors lined up in an array – each strip covers about 5 kilometers wide. But HiRISE has two extra pairs of detectors on the two middle strips to get color data, so there’s a central color swath about 1 kilometer wide.

MRO orbits about 316 km (250 miles) above the Martian surface. At this altitude it can take pictures of Mars with resolutions of 0.3 m/pixel (about 1 foot); therefore it can resolve objects less than a meter across. With that type of power, it can spot the various Mars landers and rovers on the surface, including Opportunity, Curiosity, and Perseverance. HiRISE even captured Curiosity and Perseverance as they were descending under parachutes to the surface.

NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Captures Images of China’s Rover From Space
The Mars 2020 descent stage holding NASA’s Perseverance rover can be seen falling through the Martian atmosphere, its parachute trailing behind, in this image taken on February 18, 2021 by the HiRISE camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona

Richard Leis, a member of the HiRISE team said on Twitter that due to the amount of territory covered by the HiRISE image bands, the detection of man-made artifacts on the Martian surface always takes time and skill.

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