The Chinese Mars rover may be stuck, but scientists using data from the mission remain hopeful that the rover can re-energize and explore again.
Zhurong, part of China Tianwen 1 Mars mission, landed on Utopia Planitia in May 2021. The rover went into idle mode in May 2022, effectively allowing it to hibernate during the winter in the planet’s northern hemisphere.
It was supposed to resume its activities independently in December last year, around the time of that MarsNorthern vernal equinox, when temperatures and light conditions were most favorable to the solar-powered rover. This did not happen.
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However, Yi Xu, assistant professor at the Institute of Space Sciences at the Macau University of Science and Technology, Tell (Opens in a new tab) VICE World News that there may still be hope for Zhurong.
China He did not comment About Zhurong mode, however Images from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) proves that the rover has been stationary for a while.
Xu said the MRO images show it is “covered in sand and dust, so it’s definitely damaging to its ability to convert sunlight into electricity.”
“We have to wait, because now it’s spring, and after that, it will be the summer season on Mars. Then it should receive more sunlight and the temperature will also increase,” Ye said. “When the battery is fully charged, the rover or device may work again.”
Zhurong has an active means of cleaning its solar arrays, but it’s clear that a period of inactivity in an area prone to dust storms affected its ability to generate electricity and retain heat. Zhurong does not have an isotope heating unit, like other rovers including China Lunar explorers Yutubut instead it has a pair of “windows” that allow a chemical called n-undecane to store heat energy.
The rover was expected to wake up independently when two conditions were met. These are major components that reach temperatures above minus 5 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 15 degrees Celsius) and generate power greater than 140 watts.
Xu is a co-author of a recent paper that used data from Zhurong’s ground-penetrating radar to build an image of the layers just below the surface of Mars and Reveal complex layers.
Whether or not Zhurong steps up again, the mission has already exceeded its planned life of three months on Earth. The rover, like its orbiting companion Tianwen-1, has also completed its work primary science goals.
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