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China's Mars spacecraft has photographed the entire red planet, state media says

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China's Mars orbiter captured this top-down view of the 59,055-foot Ascraeus Mons volcano.
CNSA/Handout via Reuters
  • China's Mars orbiter has imaged the entire red planet, according to state media.
  • The Tianwen-1 mission — the orbiter and a rover — met its scientific goals, state media said.
  • The spacecraft's pictures reveal vast craters, canyons as long as the US, and a volcano on Mars.
  • For more stories, go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.

China's Mars-orbiting spacecraft has beamed back stunning images of the red planet's most distinctive features, and they're just a sample of its new photo library.

The Tianwen-1 orbiter spacecraft has imaged the entire planet of Mars, the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation said on Weibo on Wednesday. China released a handful of the orbiter's images from across the Martian surface with the announcement.

Impact craters fill the Arabia Terra highlands on Mars.
CNSA/Handout via Reuters

Since falling into its orbit there in February 2021, the spacecraft has circled Mars more than 1,300 times, Chinese state media reported. The orbiter brought a rover to Mars as well, dropping it into Utopia Planitia, a vast field of ancient volcanic rock that may have extensive reserves of water frozen beneath its surface. The rover, named Zhurong for ancient Chinese mythology's god of fire, aimed to explore the region and search for its water ice with ground-penetrating radar.

The Zhurong rover capture this image, released by China National Space Administration (CNSA), on June 29, 2022.
CNSA/Handout via Reuters

If space agencies like NASA or China National Space Administration someday send humans to Mars, water would be a crucial resource. It can both sustain astronauts and be broken down into hydrogen and oxygen for rocket fuel. It's unlikely Mars-bound spaceships could carry enough water, oxygen, and hydrogen for the entire journey there and back, so they would likely need to mine it on Mars.

The ice cap on the Martian South Pole, where almost all the planet's water is stored.
CNSA/Handout via Reuters

The Zhurong rover traveled nearly 2 kilometers before going into hibernation to save its energy through Mars's hyper-cold winter, according to state media. The rover is expected to power back up in December, when Martian spring arrives.

This was the first Mars mission to send a spacecraft into the planet's orbit, drop a landing platform onto the Martian surface, and deploy a rover all in one expedition.

The Tianwen-1 probe, carrying a lander and rover in a landing capsule, en route to Mars. Photo released on December 16, 2020.
CNSA via AP

Craters were a prominent feature in the images, of course. The below image shows the rim of the ancient Maunder crater, which is about 90 kilometers wide and is partially filled with dust, sand, and other Mars material.

The edge of Mars's Maunder crater.
CNSA/Handout via Reuters

One image captures a stunning view of the Valles Marineris canyon system, which is almost as long as the United States is wide.

The 2,485-mile canyon Valles Marineris on Mars.
CNSA/Handout via Reuters

Both Tianwen-1 robots, on the Martian ground and in its orbit, have completed their scientific missions, state media reported Wednesday. The orbiter has beamed 1,040 gigabytes of raw data back to Earth, which CNSA will eventually release publicly, state media said.

For now, the mission's findings are not clear.


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