China’s Mars probe, Tianwen-1, has been hanging around Mars in a parking lot for nearly two full months, preparing for its rover landing in May.
But it is not only in the orbit twiddling of their antennas. The probe explores the planet, turns closer, looks at the chosen landing page of the mission – and sends back some amazing 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 half-half Mars, viewed from its far side, with the sun behind it, from a distance of about 11,000 kilometers (6,835 miles).
From that distance, surface properties are visible, various colors streak across the face of Mars, as well as a faint hazy sketch – the planet’s thin but dusty atmosphere is wrapped around it like a delicate shell.
Mars is the most visited planet in the solar system, but there are many we do not yet know about. With eight orbiters currently in operation (including Tianwen-1 and the UAE Hope Orbiter, who also arrived in February this year), as well as two robbers and one lander, there are still made new discoveries.
Tianwen-1 makes a landing and rover that will land in Utopia Planitia, inside the Utopia Influence Basin in the northern hemisphere of Mars. 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.
The discovery of this region, the China National Space Administration believes, could provide some important clues that could help us unravel even more of the planet’s mysterious history.
A date has not yet been set for the landing, but it is scheduled for mid-May, according to an address by Chi Wang of the Chinese Academy of Scientists at Space Science Week 2021.
Once the rover has sunk, the orbiter will continue to orbit the planet, make its own observations, and act as a communication relay between Earth and Mars.
Hopefully we will see many more photos like this in the coming years.