Watch: China’s Tianwen-1 Mars Orbiter Snaps Selfie With Red Planet’s Mysterious Ice Caps
19:02 GMT 31.01.2022 (Updated: 10:10 GMT 30.11.2022)
China’s first Mars probe, Tianwen-1, has been in orbit around the Red Planet for nearly a year, and recently unfolded its “selfie stick” for an exterior inspection.
New video released by the China National Space Administration (CNSA) on Monday shows the Tianwen-1 orbiter whisking over Mars’ polar ice caps, giving a glimpse of its mysterious water-carbon dioxide ice dunes.
The video was snapped by Tianwen-1’s “selfie stick,” an inspection tool mounted on the end of a memory material that extends out 5.2 feet once unfurled. China Global Television noted that the orbiter’s engine, propellant tank and attitude control engine all look very good after a year and a half in space, one year of which it’s spent orbiting Mars.
The probe previously snapped high-definition images of the Martian ice caps in March 2021, showing how strong winds have buffeted the sand dunes on which the ice deposits sit. Much of the ice recondenses on the caps each winter, then sublimates directly into a gas in the thin Martian atmosphere during warmer months. Scientists believe understanding the Martian ice caps is key to both understanding Mars’ past evolution and to any hope of finding evidence of life on the planet.
Tianwen-1, whose name translates to “questions about heaven,” blasted off from Wenchang on China’s Hainan island on July 23, 2020, taking advantage of an unusually close pass between the planets to zip over to Mars in just six months’ time, arriving in orbit on February 10, 2021. After orbiting for a few months, Tainwen-1 sent down its landing vehicle, which landed successfully and deployed the Zhurong rover, which has wandered Mars’ Utopia Planitia since May 2021.
Tianwen-1 is China’s first probe to reach Mars, and when its lander touched down, China became just the third Earth nation to successfully softly land a vehicle on Mars, after the United States and the Soviet Union. China is the second nation to deploy a rover on Mars, since the USSR’s Mars 2 and 3 landers in 1971 both failed to deploy their rovers.
© Photo : China National Space AdministrationThe China National Space Administration on Thursday published pictures of its first Mars rover, Tianwen-1, which have been made by the spacecraft itself en route to the Red Planet
The China National Space Administration on Thursday published pictures of its first Mars rover, Tianwen-1, which have been made by the spacecraft itself en route to the Red Planet
© Photo : China National Space Administration
Having dropped off its rover, in November, Tianwen-1 assumed a wider elliptical orbit at a high inclination, allowing it to begin a global remote sensing mapping project of the planet’s entire surface, including its icy poles. The new orbit also allows Tianwen-1 to continue performing its other role as a communications relay between Zhurong on the surface and CNSA mission command in Beijing.
CNSA said on Monday that Zhurong has covered about 0.9 miles in 25 Martian days, which are about 40 minutes longer than an Earth day.
Last month, Zhang Rongqiao, head of the Tianwen mission, said that Tianwen-2, which will aim to explore asteroids, is ready to proceed to the prototype stage. He also told CGTN that the program would return to Mars with the Tianwen-3 mission and aim to send a soil sample back to Earth, perhaps around 2030. A prospective Tianwen-4 mission would aim to visit Jupiter and two of its many moons.