Credit: China Central Television (CCTV)/China National Space Administration (CNSA)/Inside Outer Space screengrab


China’s Zhurong Mars rover is scouting about on the Utopia Planitia region of the Red Planet, a site that may offer astrobiological potential.

“There could be fossils there,” explains James Head, professor of geological science at Brown University, adding that the robot could be on the floor of an ancient — billions of years old — ocean.

Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Zhurong offers the opportunity that fundamental scientific questions, like the origin of life, can be tackled, Head senses.

Onboard the Mars machinery that began its mission on May 22 is a ground penetrating radar that could detect a frozen ocean below its wheels.

Credit: CNSA


The rover can communicate with Earth for 10 minutes each day via the Tianwen-1 relay orbiter now circuiting Mars.

The 1.85-meter-tall robot is propelled by six wheels and powered by four solar panels. It can move at a slow-going 200 meters an hour on the Martian surface.

Developed by the China Academy of Space Technology in Beijing, the major maker of Chinese spacecraft, Zhurong carries six scientific instruments including a multispectral camera, shallow subsurface radar and meteorological measurer.

Credit: CNSA

High geological interest…in the lowland

The Tianwen-1 landing site region in Utopia Planitia is in an “extremely interesting area” Head recently told Inside Outer Space.

“It lies within the area thought to be part of potential ancient northern lowland oceans that may have existed in the Noachian and Late Hesperian, and lies topographically below the proposed ‘shorelines’ for both of these candidate oceans,” Head said. The global-scale unit within which Tianwen-1 is targeted is the Vastitas Borealis Formation, Head added, a Late Hesperian-aged unit that is interpreted to be the sedimentary remnant of the ocean proposed to occupy the northern lowlands at that time.

Credit: CGTN

“Thus it not only has extremely high geological interest — do the surface units look sedimentary, is there evidence of wave and water activity, is there any remaining water frozen as ice, etc. — but is also of very obvious astrobiological interest given possible fossils or evidence of biological activity,” Head said.

For informative videos focused on China’s Mars rover, go to these newly issued videos:

One Response to “China Mars Rover: Scientific Agenda”

  • J Stryder says:

    Where Viking 2 landed in Utopia Planitia, it seen occasional frost on the ground, amid a large concentration of volcanic rock! The Chinese rover will not “see”, or find any evidence of fossils!

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