mission to mars
What will China's rover be researching on Mars?
Perseverance and Curiosity have company.
The China National Space Administration successfully landed its Zhurong rover on Mars on Saturday, state media reports, making China the third country after the United States and Soviet Union to touch down on the Red Planet (the 1971 Soviet mission failed shortly after landing). It's considered a major achievement for Beijing's space program, which is growing more and more ambitious.
Zhurong will soon be deployed from the lander for a three-month mission, joining the aforementioned operational NASA rovers. So, what will it be doing? CNN and The Associated Press report that it will be searching for signs of ancient life, but the mission appears to be a little more specific than that. The Scientific American reports that Zhurong's landing site, Utopia Planitia, is "a rather bland expanse of rock-strewn sand," a good spot for a touchdown, but "decidedly sub-par for addressing cutting-edge research questions, such as whether Mars harbors past or present life."
That said, the mission should come in handy, Agnes Cousin, a planetary scientist at the Institute for Research and in Astrophysics and Planetology in France, told The Scientific American. "For the overall geological implications for Mars, it's very nice to have a new location to compare," she said.
Among other things, Zhurong is equipped with the first magnetometer sent to Mars, which reportedly could possibly reveal details of how Mars lost its magnetic field and, subsequently, its atmosphere and water billions of years ago. Read more at The Scientific American and The South China Morning Post.