China has now become the second country in history to safely land its rover on the surface of Mars. The Tianwen-1 spacecraft was launched in July last year, and it had been orbiting Mars since February this year. The mission consists of an orbiter, a lander and a rover. Here are some key points to keep in mind about China’s Mars landing and why it is such a big moment in space exploration.
China Mars landing is historic
China’s Mars landing is historic by all accounts. So far only the United States has successfully managed to land its rovers on the planet and also deploy them for exploration. The former Soviet Union did manage to land on Mars, but the mission only a partial success as they lost contact soon after landing. Technically, China is third to land on Mars if one counts the Russian landing, but given that it has deployed the rover, China is only the second country to do so.
Zhurong rover landing
The Zhurong rover was strapped to the back of a landing vehicle. According to BBC, “the rover was encased in an aeroshell for the initial phase of the nine-minute descent.” The rover is named after the mythical Chinese god of fire. The rover will spend around 90 Martian days on the planet. A Sol or Martian day is around 24 hours and 39 minutes.
Zhurong’s landing site is Utopia Planitia
The crater where Zhurong has landed is called Utopia Planitia. It is a plain inside the largest impact basin on Mars. This is also the largest impact crater known in the Solar system. Incidentally, the Viking 2 lander also launched here back in 1976.
Zhurong will look for signs of ancient life
Zhurong will study Mars’s surface soil and atmosphere and look for signs of ancient life. Utopia Planitia is expected to host underground ice and has been speculated to have once been covered by a Martian ocean.
Here’s what the rover is packing
The rover has a suite of scientific instruments for exploring the Martian environment. It is fitted with cameras will take images of nearby rocks. A multispectral camera will decipher the nature of the minerals present in these rocks. Zhurong has ground-penetrating radar, which is expected to reveal the geological processes that led to the formation of the red planet.
Zhurong’s spectrometer includes a laser-based technology that can zap rocks to study them. The rover is the first to be equipped with a magnetometer, which will measure the magnetic field in its vicinity and could provide insight into how the red planet lost its strong magnetic field.