It was only yesterday that Chinese officials made it sound like we’d be waiting at least a couple more weeks to see the first photos from China’s new Mars rover. News out of the country suggested that while the rover landed safely, it had to go through all of its diagnostic tests before its handlers back on Earth would even bother to collect photos from the rover showing the Martian surface. Apparently, that was totally incorrect, because mere hours after writing that news, China did the exact opposite and published two new photos and two videos from the mission.
The two photos are definitely the most interesting of the released media as they show the Martian surface. The two short video clips show the moments after the Mars lander was released by the orbiter and began descending to the surface. It’s unclear why China chose to release the images so soon after officials suggested that the world would be waiting weeks to see them, but they’re definitely a welcome surprise.
Here are the two images, along with their descriptions from the China National Space Administration.
The first photograph, a black and white image, was taken by an obstacle avoidance camera installed in front of the Mars rover. The image shows that a ramp on the lander has been extended to the surface of Mars. The terrain of the rover’s forward direction is clearly visible in the image, and the horizon of Mars appears curved due to the wide-angle lens.
The second image, a color photo, was taken by the navigation camera fitted to the rear of the rover. The rover’s solar panels and antenna are seen unfolded, and the red soil and rocks on the Martian surface are clearly visible in the image.
As for the videos, they look pretty similar but were captured by two different cameras. What you’re seeing in the videos is China’s Mars lander separating from the orbiter. The lander contains the rover as well, and as you can see in the black and white image above, the rover is still in position within the lander, ready to roll down the ramp and begin its exploration mission.
Now that the lander and rover are safely on the surface of Mars, China will have roughly three months to play with its mobile robot before the end of its planned life. It’s possible that the rover will live longer than three months, but there are no guarantees.
As this is China’s first mission to the Red Planet, it’ll be learning a lot along the way. The more information it can amass about how to make a Mars mission as successful as possible will ensure that future missions (including crewed missions, which China has said it plans on launching) will have the greatest chance of success.