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NASA Spots China Mars Rover and Its Impressive Wheel Tracks From Orbit

The charismatic Zhurong rover has left its mark on Mars.

mro-zhurongmarch2022
NASA's MRO spacecraft spotted China's Zhurong rover and its wheels tracks on March 11, 2022. The dark object is the rover.
NASA/JPL/UArizona

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

I'm not saying we should have beauty contests for Mars rovers, but I am saying China's Zhurong rover is pretty charming. You can't see any up-close details of the solar-powered vehicle in a new image from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, but you can appreciate the plucky little rover's efforts since it landed on the red planet in May of last year.

On Friday, the MRO HiRise camera team shared a snapshot of the rover from orbit from March 11. Zhurong is part of the China National Space Administration's Tianwen-1 mission, which also includes a lander and an orbiter that's great at taking selfies.

The rover appears as a tiny, almost bluish object against the Mars landscape in Utopia Planitia, a large plains area. The machine is smaller than NASA's Curiosity and Perseverance rovers, but the HiRise team is talented at spotting humanity's robotic explorers on Mars. The camera captured Zhurong's wheel tracks, which can be seen as dark parallel lines winding across the dusty ground. Find the rover and then trace the tracks up and toward the left. 

The HiRise team also delivered a wider view that shows the rover's journey from its landing site to where it is now, complete with arrows pointing out the tracks along the way. It's covered about 1 mile (1.5 kilometers) of ground since its arrival.

Zhurong handily outlasted its original three-month mission and is on an extended expedition. It represents a significant milestone in planetary exploration for China. The more Mars rovers, the merrier.