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The new colonial movement: China yesterday announced that it has regained communications with its Zhurong rover, located in the Martian northern lowland plains of Utopia Planitia.
The image to the right, cropped and annotated by me to post here, is a digital terrain map created from two high resolution photos taken by Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). The black line shows the route Zhurong has traveled since landing in May.
According to [Chen Baichao, the chief designer of Zhurong], the rover has traveled more than 1,000 meters since it landed on Mars at the southern part of Utopia Planitia in May 2021. After the solar conjunction, it will head south to find mud volcanoes, which scientists are interested in, located about 10 km away.
American scientists had hoped Zhurong would head north to a much larger mud cone that was much closer. Their decision to head south to the smaller cones farther away tells us that they have given themselves a much more challenging mission. It also suggests they decided it will be easier to get Zhurong closer to a smaller cone.
Based on that 10 kilometer distance, it seems the Chinese are aiming for the cones near the bottom of the map. It took Zhurong three months to travel the distance shown. At that pace, to get to those small southern mud cones will likely take, at a minimum, about fifteen months. Though the ground is quite flat, the rover will either have to negotiate one small rise of about 15 feet, or detour to the east somewhat to find a less steep route.
It is also possible that they will instead head to the mud cone south of the large impact crater. It is also a small cone, is much nearer, and will not require them to get past that rise.
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