China’s Zhurong rover, the latest robot to land on Mars, has sent back its very first pictures of its new extraterrestrial home. Zhurong touched down on Mars on Saturday Beijing time, making China the second nation in history, after the United States, to land an operational surface mission on the red planet.
The view from the rover reveals the vast and desolate landscape of Utopia Planitia, one of the largest impact basins in the solar system, which stretches across 2,000 miles. Images released on Wednesday by the China National Space Administration include a black-and-white shot of the ramp that the rover will descend to start its exploration mission, as well as a backwards-facing shot of the rover in color, including its open solar panels and communications dish.
China’s space agency also released a short video of the rover separating from the nation’s orbiter so that it could make its descent to Mars.
Zhurong will soon roll off its perch on the lander and begin to drive around its site. The 500-pound robot is expected to explore Mars for at least a few months, and is tasked with taking pictures and conducting scientific measurements of the Martian terrain. The rover is equipped with instruments including a weather station, a magnetic field detector, and a ground-penetrating radar system to probe the Martian subsurface.
Zhurong’s historic landing follows a series of milestones at Mars that includes the arrival of the first orbiter from the United Arab Emirates, the February touchdown of NASA’s Perseverance rover, and the first controlled, powered flights on another world, performed by the Ingenuity helicopter. No matter how 2021 plays out here on Earth, it is sure to be a banner year for exploration on Mars.