China’s Mars probe, Tianwen-1, has been orbiting Mars for almost two months, preparing to land on a rover in May.
But it’s not just sitting there in orbit, rotating its antennas. The probe explores the planet, orbits it closer, checks the mission’s chosen landing site for the rover – and sends back amazing images of our dusty friend on the planet.
On March 16 and March 18, the spacecraft took two panoramic photos with its medium-resolution camera on the crescent of Mars, viewed from its far side, with the Sun behind it, from a distance of about 11,000 kilometers (6,835 miles).
From this distance you can see superficial features, different colors streaked on the face of Mars, as well as faint hazy outlines – the thin but dusty atmosphere of the planet, wrapped around it like a delicate shell.
Mars is the most visited planet in the solar system, but there are many things we still don’t know about it. With eight orbital exploiters currently in operation (including Tianwen-1 and the UAE Hope Orbit, 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 rover that will touch Utopia Planitia, in the Utopia Basin in the northern hemisphere of Mars. It is a large lava plain beneath which vast amounts of ice have been discovered and which scientists believe was once home to the ocean before Mars lost its liquid surface water.
Exploring this region, according to the Chinese National Space Administration, could provide some vital clues that could help us gather even more of the planet’s mysterious history.
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 2021 Space Science Week.
Once the rover is released, the orbital will continue to orbit the planet, making its own observations and acting as a communication relay between Earth and Mars.
We hope to see many more photos like these in the coming years.