The Chinese Mars rover Tianwen-1 has been hanging around Mars in orbit, parked for almost two months, preparing to land in May.
But it’s not just sitting there in its tentacle orbit. The rover is exploring the Earth’s orbit up close, inspecting the mission’s chosen rover landing location and sending back stunning pictures of our dusty planetary friends.
On March 16 and March 18, the spacecraft took two panoramas with the Mars crescent medium-resolution camera viewed from the far side, with the sun behind some 11,000 kilometers (6,835 miles) away.
From that distance, different colored surface features are seen across the face of Mars, as well as the faint haze – a thin atmosphere. But the dust of the planets wrapped around like a fragile shell
Mars is the most visited planet in the solar system. But there is still a lot that we do not know about. With eight spacecraft currently in use (including Tianwen-1 and the UAE’s Hope spacecraft arriving in February this year), as well as two rover and one lander, there has been a search. New discoveries happen all the time.
Tianwen-1 carries a lander and a rover to be touched down in Utopia Planitia, inside of the utopian impact basin in the northern hemisphere of Mars. It’s a massive lava plains where massive amounts of ice have been discovered, and scientists believe it was once the site of the ocean before Mars lost its liquid surface.
The exploration of the region, the China National Space Administration, believes it can provide some important clues that will help us piece together more of the planet’s mysterious history.
No date has been set for landing. But it’s scheduled for mid-May, according to Chi Wang of the Chinese Academy of Scientists at Space Science Week 2021.
When the rover is dropped, the orbiter will continue to circle the planet, conduct its own observations and act as a means of communicating between Earth and Mars.
Hopefully in the next few years we will see many more images like this.