Chinese scientists hold out hope for silent Zhurong Mars rover

China’s Mars rover may well be stuck, but scientists working with information from the mission are nevertheless hopeful that the car can reactivate and discover as soon as a lot more.

Zhurong, which is portion of China’s Tianwen 1 Mars mission, landed in Utopia Planitia in May perhaps 2021. The rover entered a dormant mode in May perhaps 2022, successfully enabling it to hibernate throughout winter in the planet’s northern hemisphere. 

It was supposed to autonomously resume activities in December final year, about the time of Mars’ northern spring equinox, when temperatures and lighting circumstances had been a lot more favorable for the solar-powered car. That has not occurred. 

Connected: The most recent news about China’s space system

On the other hand, Yi Xu, an associate professor at the Space Science Institute at Macau University of Science and Technologies, told (opens in new tab) VICE Planet News that there may well nevertheless be hope for Zhurong.

China has not commented on the status of Zhurong, but pictures from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) prove the rover has remained stationary for a whilst. 

The MRO pictures show that “it really is covered by the sand and the dust, so it certainly hurts its capacity to transform sunlight to electrical energy,” Xu mentioned. 

“We have to wait, since now it really is spring, and later, that’d be the summer season season on Mars. Then it should really obtain a lot more sunlight and the temperature also increases,” Yi mentioned. “When the battery is completely charged, then the rover or the instrument may well operate once again.”

Zhurong has active indicates of cleaning its solar arrays, but its period of inactivity in an region prone to dust storms has apparently impacted its capacity to create electrical energy and retain heat. Zhurong does not have a radioisotope heater unit, like other rovers like China’s Yutu moon explorers, but as an alternative has a pair of “windows” enabling a chemical named n-undecane to shop heat power.

The rover was anticipated to wake up autonomously when two circumstances are met. These are crucial elements reaching a temperature of higher than five degrees Fahrenheit (minus 15 degrees Celsius) and power generation of higher than 140 watts.

Xu is a co-author of a current paper that utilized information from Zhurong’s ground-penetrating radar to develop a image of the layers quickly beneath the Martian surface and reveal complicated layering.

No matter if or not Zhurong rises once again, the mission currently exceeded its planned lifetime of 3 Earth months. The rover has also, like its companion Tianwen 1 orbiter, completed its main science ambitions.

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