China’s Mars probe, Tianwen-1, has been hovering around Mars in a parking orbit for nearly two full months, preparing for its landing in May.
But it’s not just about sitting there in orbit spinning your antennae. The probe is surveying the planet, orbiting closer, checking the mission’s chosen rover landing site, and sending out some jaw-dropping images of our dusty planetary friend.
On March 16 and March 18, the spacecraft took two panoramic photos with its medium-resolution camera of a crescent Mars viewed from its far side, with the Sun behind it, from a distance of approximately 11,000 kilometers (6,835 miles). ).
From that distance, surface features are visible, different colors traversing the surface of Mars, as well as a faint hazy outline: the planet’s thin but dusty atmosphere wrapped around it like a delicate layer.
Mars is the most visited planet in the Solar System, but there are still many things that we do not know about it. With eight orbiters currently in operation (including Tianwen-1 and the United Arab Emirates’ Hope orbiter, which also arrived in February this year), as well as two rovers and a lander, new discoveries are being made all the time.
Tianwen-1 carries a lander and a rover that will land on Utopia Planitia, within the Utopia impact basin in the Martian northern hemisphere. It is a large lava plain, under which large amounts of ice have been found, and which scientists believe was once home to an ocean before Mars lost its liquid surface water.
Exploring this region, the China National Space Administration believes, could provide some vital clues that could help us piece together the planet’s mysterious history even further.
A landing date has not yet been set, but it is scheduled for mid-May, according to a speech by Chi Wang of the Chinese Academy of Scientists at Space Science Week 2021.
Once the rover has been dropped, the orbiter will continue to circle the planet, making its own observations and acting as a communications relay between Earth and Mars.
Hopefully in the next few years we will see many more images like these.