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China’s Mars Rover Hasn’t Moved in Months, NASA images reveal

China’s Mars Rover Hasn’t Moved in Months
China’s Mars Rover Hasn’t Moved in Months. Credit: 中国新闻网 / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.0

Images obtained by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which is operated by the United States Space Agency, show that a Chinese rover currently operating on Mars has not moved in over six months.

The time series that were collected by NASA between September 2022 and February 2023 demonstrate that the Zhurong rover operated by China did not move at any point throughout this whole period.

Zhurong Missions

Zhurong was one of the spacecraft that participated in the Tianwen-1 mission, and it successfully landed on Mars in May of 2021.

Before coming to a halt on the plain of Utopia Planitia, the Zhurong rover, which is fueled by solar energy, had traveled about 2 kilometers from the location where it landed. The rover was developed to carry out a variety of scientific studies on the surface of Mars.

These investigations include evaluating the composition of rocks and soil, as well as researching the climate and geology of the planet.

Researchers from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory at Caltech and the University of Arizona claim that the High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera that was onboard their orbiter was able to disclose the rover’s fixed location.

The camera is able to take very detailed pictures of the surface of Mars, which enables researchers to track how the terrain is evolving as well as how the rovers on the planet are moving about.

“HiRISE is often used to observe changes to dust-covered areas near Mars surface missions,” scientists at the University of Arizona wrote in their findings. They further wrote, “This time series shows that the [Zhurong] rover has not changed its position between 8 September 2022 and 7 February 2023.”

Nevertheless, the Zhurong rover has not provided any fresh information or photographs in quite some time, and there have been no updates.

No Signal Since May 2022

The South China Morning Post said that the mission crew had not received a signal from the rover since it entered a predetermined period of sleep in May 2022, at which time solar radiation levels on the planet were quite low.

Zhurong had already finished its main mission at that point, but it was scheduled to begin further missions in December 2022, when solar radiation was expected to recover to a level that would allow its solar panels to produce enough energy to power the spacecraft.

The accumulation of Martian dust on the rover’s solar panels and other “windows” has been hypothesized by some astronomers to be the cause of the vehicle’s inability to charge. Yet data from NASA’s Perseverance rover, a nuclear-powered spacecraft that can work through winter, reveals that Mars is still relatively cold — maybe below Zhurong’s operating conditions.

Jia Yang, the deputy chief designer in charge of the Tianwen 1 mission, stated to the press in September 2022 that in order for Zhurong to emerge from its state of hibernation, the rover must achieve a temperature of 5 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 15 degrees Celsius) and produce at least 140 watts of power.

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