China’s Martian rover appears to be dead in the water, or in this case, the sandy, barren surface of the Red Planet. The Zhurong rover, which first arrived on Mars in 2021, went into hibernation back in May of 2022. However, the reports that the rover hadn’t made contact since then first popped up in early January. Now, it appears the rover may be done entirely.
The Zhurong rover was part of China’s first interplanetary mission, known as Tianwen-1. The mission launched to study the topography of the Martian surface. While China’s Martian rover completed its primary mission before its hibernation, the rover was set to continue additional missions in December. However, it has remained eerily quiet despite being designed to wake back up.
The cause of the rover’s death is most likely to be attributed to sand-covered solar panels – a death that other Martian exploring spacecraft have suffered from in the past, including NASA’s InSight lander. While solar powered spacecraft have the potential to run forever, so long as the Sun is there to power them, China’s Martian rover appears to have befallen the same fate as other solar-powered spacecraft on Mars.
The photos that seem to seal the rover’s death were taken by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Three images which were taken throughout 2022 and 2023 show the rover moving into position near a crater on the Red Planet’s surface. The additional two photos, though, show China’s Martian rover unmoving from its resting spot next to the crater, according to researchers with the University of Arizona.
Based on the photos, the rover doesn’t appear to have changed positions at all between September 8, 2022, and February 7, 2023. Overall, China’s Martian rover traveled roughly 2 kilometers during its mission time before coming to a stop near the crater that it now rests next to. It’s possible we could see the rover kick back to life at some point, but the chances are slim if its solar panels have become covered in dust.