Geoscience: Initial analysis of Mars landing site of Zhurong rover
March 8, 2022
The landing site of China’s first Mars rover, Zhurong, has shown notable evidence of relatively strong topography compared to other Mars landing sites and a surface shaped by wind and potentially by water, according to initial results published in Nature Geoscience. These findings suggest that this landing site is conducive to future exploration.
The Tianwen-1 lander and its rover, Zhurong, landed on Utopia Planitia in the low-lying northern lowlands of Mars in May 2021. Utopia Planitia is a volcanic region with an estimated surface age of more than three billion years that may have once hosted a large body of liquid water or ice.
Liang Ding and colleagues analysed measurements of the landing site area taken by the Zhurong rover over its first 60 sols, or Mars days. Instrument data were used to determine the 450 m path taken by Zhurong during this time period. Through the analysis of interactions between Zhurong’s wheels and the underlying terrain — including images of the wheel tracks taken by the hazard-avoidance camera — the authors were able to decipher the mechanical properties of the Martian soils at the landing site. Landforms consistent with wind erosion — such as ridges and ripples, eroded craters, and rock textures suggestive of weathering by brines — were also identified.
These initial findings demonstrate Zhurong’s potential to provide insights into the evolution of the surface environment in the northern lowlands of Mars.
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