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China's Mars rover sends back adorably charming red planet selfie

There's also a panda on the Tianwen-1 lander.

Hello, Zhurong rover and Tianwen-1 lander. This selfie comes from a remote camera set on the surface of Mars.

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

It's easy to anthropomorphize our robotic emissaries to Mars. We give them nicknames like "Oppy" and "Percy" and focus on their humanlike "heads" and "eyes." Well, China may have designed the most huggable-looking rover yet. The Zhurong rover has delivered a Mars selfie for the ages. Try not to squee too loud.

According to a China National Space Administration statement on Friday, the impressive image was taken by a remote, wireless camera released by the rover, which then moved away to pose with the Tianwen-1 lander for the picture.

The image shows Zhurong "looking" at the camera. You can see its solar panels extending out like butterfly wings to the side. Part of the ramp from the lander down to the surface is visible to the very far right of the image.

Zhurong is one of the key elelments of China's ambitious Tiawen-1 mission, which consists of an orbiting spacecraft, a lander and the rover. By delivering the solar-powered vehicle to the surface in mid-May, China became just the second country to operate a rover on Mars. NASA is running the Curiosity and Perseverance rovers in other regions of Mars.

The Tianwen-1 lander on Mars along with the Zhurong rover's wheel tracks.


The selfie shot comes as part of a release of science images, including a landscape showing the view out over Utopia Planitia, an extensive plains area of Mars that made for a nicely flat landing site for the surface part of the Tianwen-1 mission. 

CNSA also shared a panorama and another shot of the lander with the Chinese flag prominently displayed on its side. It appears to have an image of the Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games panda mascot and Paralympics glowing-lantern mascot near the flag. 

While China hasn't released nearly as many images as we typically see from NASA Mars missions, these latest shots are in good company with recent views from the Tianwen-1 spacecraft and NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter that show the lander and rover from orbit.

It might seem strange that some space fans develop emotional attachments to robots (see how folks felt about the demise of NASA's Opportunity rover), but space exploration is a human endeavor, and emotions and connections are a part of that.

Those might be robots out there rolling across the rocky surface of Mars, but they're our robots.

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