Click for full image.
Click for full image.
Cool image time! The science team for the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) today released a new orbital photo that shows the entire journey on Mars of China’s Zhurong rover, since it landed in May 2021. That image, reduced to post here, is to the right. From the caption, written by Alfred McEwen of the Lunar & Planetary Laboratory in Arizona:
This HiRISE image, acquired on 11 March 2022, shows how far the rover has traveled in the 10 months since it landed.
In fact, its exact path can be traced from the wheel tracks left on the surface. It has traveled south for roughly 1.5 kilometers (about 1 mile). This cutout highlights the rover and the rover’s path (with contrast enhanced to better reveal the tracks).
The white curves that the rover has apparently been inspecting as it moved south are called megaripples, mid-size sand dunes from three to six feet in height that are generally found to be inactive, though not always. From a recent report about Zhurong’s findings:
“The examples Zhurong has visited appear very bright-toned in satellite images taken from orbit, and the team thinks that this is because the megaripples are covered with a layer of very fine dust,” says Matt Balme at the Open University, UK, who wasn’t involved in the analysis. “This means these features are probably currently inactive, as any present-day windblown sand would tend to remove the dust.”
That report used data from the rover’s first sixty days on Mars, after it had passed its first megaripple and had just reached the parachute and backshell. It does not include any later data in the past eight months, as Zhurong rolled past another nine megaripples and several small craters.
It also doesn’t include any data obtained as the rover skirted the wide apron that surrounds the large depression in the lower left. That depression looks like a crater at first glance, but because it appears to be on top of a mound it could instead by an old pitted cone. There are a lot of these cones in this region of the northern lowland plains of Mars, and planetary scientists really want to know whether they were formed from erupting ice, lava, or mud.
The Chinese have so far not released any data on what they have found in these later travels. We shall have to wait for further published papers.
The wider elevation overview map to the right, first published on August 24, 2021 and cropped and annotated to post here, shows Zhurong’s future potential geological targets to the south. The cone to the southwest as well as the nearest scarp to the south are probably the rover’s primary goals.
Though the released results have hinted that the geology here was shaped by both wind and water, direct evidence for water has not been found, or revealed by the Chinese. Zhurong has a radar sensor that could detect evidence of near surface underground ice, if it was there. As far as I know at this point, no results from that instrument have as yet been published.
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