Rover on Martian surface:
The dusty, rocky Martian surface and a Chinese rover and lander bearing small national flags were seen in photos released Friday that the rover took on the red planet.
The four pictures released by the China National Space Administration also show the upper stage of the Zhurong rover and the view from the rover before it rolled off its platform.
Zhurong placed a remote camera about 10 meters (33 feet) from the landing platform, then withdrew to take a group portrait, the CNSA said.
China landed the Tianwen-1 spacecraft carrying the rover on Mars last month after it spent about three months orbiting the red planet. China is the second country to land and operate a spacecraft on Mars, after the United States.
The orbiter and lander both display small Chinese flags and the lander has outlines of the mascots for the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics and Paralympics.
The six-wheeled rover is surveying an area known as Utopia Planitia, especially searching for signs of water or ice that could lend clues as to whether Mars ever sustained life.
At 1.85 meters (6 feet) in height, Zhurong is significantly smaller than the US’s Perseverance rover which is exploring the planet with a tiny helicopter. NASA expects its rover to collect its first sample in July for return to Earth as early as 2031.
In addition to the Mars mission, China’s ambitious space program plans to send the first crew to its new space station next week. The three crew members plan to stay for three months on the Tianhe, or Heavenly Harmony, station, far exceeding the length of any previous Chinese mission. They will perform spacewalks, construction and maintenance work and carry out science experiments.
Subsequent launches are planned to expand the station, send up supplies and exchange crews. China has also has brought back lunar samples, the first by any country’s space program since the 1970s, landed a probe and rover on the moon’s less explored far side. (AP)
Robotic explorer on horizon:
Venus is hotter than ever, with a third new robotic explorer on the horizon.
A week after NASA announced two new missions to our closest neighbor, the European Space Agency said it will launch a Venus-orbiting spacecraft in the early 2030s. Named EnVision, the orbiter will attempt to explain why Venus is so “wildly different” from Earth, even though the two planets are similar in size and composition. NASA will provide EnVision’s radar. NASA’s own pair of upcoming missions to our solar system’s hottest planet - called DaVinci Plus and Veritas - will be the first for the US in more than 30 years. They’ll blast off sometime around 2028 to 2030.
“It’s a Venus hat trick!” tweeted NASA’s top science chief, Thomas Zurbuchen.
The Europeans have visited more recently, with their Venus Express in action around the hothouse planet until 2014. Japan has had an orbiter around Venus since 2015 to study the climate.
It’s a forbidding place: the thick carbondioxide atmosphere is home to sulfuric acid clouds.
“A new era in the exploration of our closest, yet wildly different, solar system neighbour awaits us,” the European Space Agency’s science director, Gunther Hasinger, said in a statement. (AP)
Elephants on the move:
China’s famed wandering elephants are on the move again, heading southwest while a male who broke from the herd is still keeping his distance.
The group left a wildlife reserve in the southwest of Yunnan province more than a year ago and has trekked 500 kilometers (300 miles) north to the outskirts of the provincial capital of Kunming.
As of Saturday, they were spotted in Shijie township in the city of Yuxi, more than 8 kilometers (5 miles) southwest of the Kunming suburb they had arrived at last week, according to state media reports. The lone male was 16 kilometers (10 miles) away, still on the outskirts of Kunming.
The direction of their travel could be a good sign, since authorities are hoping to lead them back to their original home in the Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture southwest of Kunming.
Authorities have been attempting to keep a distance between them and local residents, while blocking roads into villages and seeking to lure them away with food drops. Despite that, the herd of 15 have raided farms, strolled down urban streets and foraged for snacks in villages and even a retirement home. (AP)