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NASA’s Mars orbiter dramatically grabs first sight of China’s elusive rover



China’s Tianwen-1 lander and Zhurong rover (bottom dot) are visible in this June 6 NASA Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter image.

NASA / JPL / UArizona

This story is part of Welcome to Mars, our series exploring the red planet.

It’s a rover party on Mars. Curiosity and endurance share the planet with China̵

7;s Zhurong rover, which a NASA spacecraft orbiting the red planet spotted on the surface of Mars on June 6.

NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) has already captured remarkable view of curiosity and Endurance, but this is its first look at Zhurong, part of the Tianwen-1 mission from the China National Space Administration (CNSA). Tianwen-1 consists of an orbiter, a lander and the rover.

“It’s clear what we interpret as the lander surrounded by an explosion pattern, and the rover itself slightly to the south after it came down from the lander,” the MRO HiRise camera team at the University of Arizona said in a statement Thursday.

Zhurong landed in mid-May, making China the second country to operate a rover on Mars. The MRO image fits well with one view from Tianwen-1 circuit released by CNSA Earlier this week.

The rover is in a clearing area on Mars. “This image shows that the surrounding terrain is very typical of southern Utopia Planitia, with a smooth and mostly stone-free region,” said the HiRise team. “The light curved features are aeolian (wind-blown) landforms.”

China has generally released few images from the Tianwen-1 mission, as opposed to NASA’s constant feed of Mars images available to the public. However, we have seen a few snaps from the surface inclusive a look at Zhurong’s ruts after whose stems from the lander in May.

The lack of images can be frustrating for space fans, so NASA’s view of Zhurong’s adventure on the red planet is a welcome addition to the sparse Tianwen-1 photo collection.

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