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China's Mars rover spotted on the surface by orbiting spacecraft

The Zhurong rover is a tiny speck against the wide landscape of Mars.

This before and after set of images shows the landing site of the Zhurong rover in Utopia Planitia on Mars. The rover is the smaller of the two dots in the upper right-hand corner.

There's a long tradition of orbiting spacecraft looking down on Mars and picking out the tiny machines on the surface below. The latest entry in this lineage comes from China's Tianwen-1 mission. The orbiter snapped a picture of the Zhurong rover and its lander on June 2.

The China National Space Administration shared a look at the landing zone in Utopia Planitia, a broad plains region, on Monday. China is only the second nation to operate a rover on Mars, after the US. 

The rover and lander can be seen as small specks near each other in the top right-hand side of the image. Zhurong is the lower of the two dots. The other notable spots are where parts of the landing system, including the parachute and heat shield, landed. 

The Zhurong rover is the smaller dot just below the lander.


"The dark area surrounding the landing platform might be caused by the influence of the engine plume during landing," CNSA said in a statement. "The symmetrical bright stripes in the north-south direction of the landing platform might be from fine dust when the landing platform emptied the remaining fuel after landing."

Images from the Tianwen-1 mission -- which consists of the spacecraft, the lander and the rover -- have been few and far between. Most recently in late May, we saw some wheel tracks left by the rover's first moves across the dusty and rocky ground.

The solar-powered rover has been rolling since May 22 and has an expected life span of around three months. It's gathering images of the surface and studying the planet's subsurface as it looks for signs of ice below.

CNSA doesn't typically release as much information on its space exploits as we're used to seeing from agencies like NASA and the European Space Agency, so tidbits like the orbital images give us an enticing glimpse into the mission.

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