China’s Mars Rover Sends Back First Images

China’s Mars Rover Sends Back First Images

Things are changing on Mars, a world once dominated by robots from the United States. Now, Mars is home to an international cadre of robotic explorers with the arrival of China’s Zhurong rover. The mission touched down over the weekend, and Zhurong has just beamed back the first images from atop its landing platform. Soon, operators on Earth will set Zhurong loose on the red planet.

The Zhurong rover launched on July 23, 2020, just a few days before NASA’s Perseverance rover. That wasn’t a coincidence — both NASA and the China National Space Administration (CNSA) timed their launches to reach Mars when it was closest to Earth. Perseverance landed back in February, which is also when the Tianwen-1 orbiter arrived. However, the CNSA didn’t land the rover until May 14th.

The newly received images show the six-wheeled rover still sitting on its landing platform. The images showed operators that all the lander’s systems worked correctly. The ramp is already extended, ready for the robot to descend to the surface. The robot’s solar panels and antenna were also confirmed to have deployed correctly.

China is only the second nation after the US to successfully land a robot on the Martian surface and keep it operating for an extended period. The European Union has attempted two rover landings, most recently in 2016, in the first phase of its ExoMars collaboration with Russia’s Roscosmos. Unfortunately, the Schiaparelli lander crashed into the surface instead of landing softly, but the Trace Gas Orbiter from the same mission is still alive and well. ExoMars will try again in 2023 with a new Roscosmos lander named Kazachok and the Rosalind Franklin rover.

China’s Mars Rover Sends Back First Images

Unlike Perseverance and Curiosity, Zhurong needs sunlight to power itself. NASA’s newer rovers have nuclear power sources that will run for years. The Chinese team hopes to get about 90 days of use out of the 529-pound (240 kilograms) rover, but it could always exceed expectations. Some of NASA’s earlier Mars rovers like Spirit and Opportunity had similar designs, and they both lasted years. In fact, it took a global dust storm to squelch out Opportunity in 2018, about 15 years after its mission began.

Zhurong is in a region of Mars called Utopia Planitia, a gigantic basin covering much of the planet’s northern hemisphere. Scientists speculate this expanse may once have held an ocean, and there could still be evidence of that all these billions of years later. In order to study this terrain, Zhurong has to get rolling. The CNSA will drive the rover down the ramp soon, and then it’s onward to science.

Continue reading

Far Beyond the Stars: Improving Motion, Image Quality in the DS9 Upscale Project
Far Beyond the Stars: Improving Motion, Image Quality in the DS9 Upscale Project

It's been nine months since Joel Hruska's last Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Upscale Project update. The new encode method he debuts here offers better motion and improved image quality relative to what was possible last year.

Event Horizon Telescope Releases Jaw-dropping First Images of Sagittarius A*
Event Horizon Telescope Releases Jaw-dropping First Images of Sagittarius A*

In a worldwide press conference this morning, the Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration revealed the first direct images ever taken of Sagittarius A*, the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way.

Event Horizon: A Q&A With the EHT Scientists Who Captured Images of Sagittarius A*
Event Horizon: A Q&A With the EHT Scientists Who Captured Images of Sagittarius A*

We sat down with the experts who captured the first images of Sagittarius A* (Sgr A*), the black hole at the core of our galaxy. Here's what we learned.

OpenAI’s ‘DALL-E’ Generates Images From Text Descriptions
OpenAI’s ‘DALL-E’ Generates Images From Text Descriptions

All you need to do is give DALL-E some instructions, and it can draw an image for you. Sometimes the renderings are little better than fingerpainting, but other times they're startlingly accurate portrayals.