After more than a year on the surface of Mars, China’s Tianwen-1 probe has taken images covering the entire red planet, the country’s space agency announced Wednesday.
Tianwen-1, which means “quest for heavenly truth,” was launched in 2020 and landed on Mars last May, when the Zhurong rover on board started its mission of patrolling and exploring the planet while the orbiter spun overhead.
In a statement, China’s National Space Agency (CNSA) said the probe has now completed all its assigned tasks, including taking medium-resolution images covering the entire planet.
The images, posted by the space agency on social media, show the Martian landscape’s rugged terrain: dusty red dunes, shield volcanoes, impact craters, the south pole ice sheet, and the cliffs and ridges of the Valles Marineris canyons – one of the largest canyons in our solar system.
The images were taken by the probe’s orbiter, which circled Mars 1,344 times, capturing images of the planet from every angle, while the rover explored the surface, CNSA said.
The six-wheeled rover carried scientific instruments on its journey, gathering information about Mars’ geological structure, atmosphere, environment and soil. The probe has collected 1,040 gigabytes of raw scientific data, which has been processed by scientists on Earth and handed to research teams for further study, the agency said.
CNSA said it had shared the orbiter’s flight information with NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA), and the scientific data will be available to international scientists “at an appropriate time.”
With temperatures dropping during the Martian winter, as well as poor sand and dust conditions, the rover entered a dormant mode on May 18 that will last through the harsh season before its expected awakening in December – when the landing area will enter early spring, bringing better weather.
The orbiter will continue conducting tests and preparing for future tasks, the space agency said.
Prior to China’s success with Tianwen-1, only the United States and the former Soviet Union had landed a spacecraft on the surface of Mars – but India, the ESA, and the United Arab Emirates have sent spacecraft to enter the planet’s orbit.
With Tianwen-1, China was the first nation to attempt sending both an orbiter and a rover on its first homegrown Mars mission. NASA, for instance, sent multiple orbiters to Mars before ever attempting a landing.