Humans will be able to reproduce on Mars because sperm can survive there for up to 200 years, a new study suggests

mars santa cruz mountain nasa perseverance rover
NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover used its dual-camera Mastcam-Z imager to capture this image of “Santa Cruz,” a hill about 1.5 miles away from the rover, on April 29, 2021.

  • Humans will be able to reproduce on Mars, according to a scientific study.
  • Scientists believe found sperm could survive on the Red Planet for up to 200 years.
  • Researchers previously believed space radiation would destroy our DNA, making breeding impossible.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Human reproduction will be possible on Mars because sperm can survive there for up to 200 years, a study suggests.

The findings were part of a six-year experiment in which scientists kept mouse sperm on the International Space Station and exposed it to deadly radiation.

As The Daily Mail reports, researchers had believed radiation in space would destroy human DNA and make breeding impossible. Cancer was thought to be one possible health risk to humans.

But after six years, scientists found that the mouse sperm stored on the space station was still healthy.

They also exposed it to X-rays on Earth and discovered it did not affect fertility.

One of the study’s authors, Professor Sayaka Wakayama, of Japan’s University of Yamanashi, told The Daily Mail: “Many genetically normal offspring were obtained. These discoveries are essential for mankind to progress into the space age.”

“When the time comes to migrate to other planets, we will need to maintain the diversity of genetic resources, not only for humans but also for pets and domestic animals,” he added.

The study’s results come days after NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter completed its seventh flight on Mars.

The Perseverance rover that carries Ingenuity to Mars is roaming the planet to search for signs of life. As reported by Insider’s Kate Duffy, Perseverance is due to travel three miles across Mars over the next few months.

On its road trip, Perseverance will help NASA understand the geology of Jezero Crater and explore the area for signs of ancient microscopic life, the agency said in a statement.

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2 stunning panoramas show life on Mars through the eyes and ears of NASA’s Perseverance rover

perseverance
NASA’s Perseverance rover on Mars.

  • NASA’s Perseverance rover has been snapping photos of Mars for several months.
  • A new 360-degree video captures Mars’ rocky terrain, plus the sound of its windy atmosphere.
  • Another panorama gives a close-up look at the rover’s tracks in the Martian soil.
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In its first 100 days on Mars, NASA’s Perseverance rover took more than 75,000 images – including selfies, photos of mysterious rocks, and a snapshot of its own shadow.

But NASA recently published a 360-degree panoramic video from the rover that offers one of the most immersive looks yet at its view of the Martian terrain.

The video is a compilation of 992 individual photos taken by Perseverance between April 15 and 26, though the photo of the rover itself is from March 20. At the time, Perseverance was keeping an eye on the Ingenuity helicopter, the 4-pound rotorcraft that traveled in its belly to Mars.

Both the rover and helicopter are stationed in Mars’ Jezero Crater, a 28-mile-wide ancient lake bed that was filled with water about 3.5 billion years ago.

In the video, you can find Ingenuity in its original landing spot, dubbed Wright Brothers Field. The helicopter was originally supposed to conduct five flights over Mars, but after an exceptional performance, NASA sent it to start exploring new locations. Ingenuity completed its seventh flight – and second “bonus” flight – on Monday.

Perseverance spent 13 days watching Ingenuity’s first flights from a nearby lookout point called the Van Zyl Overlook. That’s the vantage point from which the panoramic video was taken.

The video also includes soundbites of Mars’ windy atmosphere, which were picked up by the rover’s microphones on February 22.

Another panorama, taken on March 20, offers a similar glimpse of the rocky Martian landscape.

That photo gives a closer look at Perseverance’s equipment deck, which carries the rover’s cameras and mast. The deck also contains antennas to pick up on sounds and send communications back to Earth.

If you look closely in the panorama, you can see detailed rover tracks in the copper-colored Martian soil. You can also spot the rover’s debris shield – a guitar-shaped covering that protected Ingenuity during the initial Mars landing.

Both panoramic views were taken by Perseverance’s Mastcam-Z, a pair of rectangular cameras with powerful zoom lenses that can record video and snap three-dimensional and color images.

A road trip to explore new Martian terrain

Perseverance embarked on its primary science mission on June 1: hunting for fossils of ancient alien microbes.

That required it to leave its landing spot in Jezero Crater and head on a road trip to some of the area’s deepest and potentially oldest layers of exposed rock.

Perseverance will spend the next few months exploring a 1.5-square-mile patch of crater floor. Over the course of the trip, the rover is expected to travel up to 3.1 miles and collect up to eight tubes of Martian rock and dust.

First, Perseverance will drive to Séítah-North, a mitten-shaped area covered in sand dunes. The uneven terrain will likely to be difficult to navigate, so Perseverance must dodge the dunes before bee-lining for the spot it intends to study.

perseverance route
The routes for Perseverance’s first science campaign (yellow hash marks) as well as its second (light-yellow hash marks).

Next, Perseverance will head toward the nearby Cratered Floor Fractured Rough. There, it will collect rock and sediment samples and stow them so that a future mission can one day return them to Earth.

Eventually, Perseverance will retrace its steps toward its landing site, marking the end of the first leg of its science mission.

After that, NASA scientists plan to send Perseverance to the base of Jezero Crater’s ancient river delta. The trek to this area, known as Three Forks, will take several months. But scientists hope to discover something there that’s worth the trip: minerals that might have trapped and fossilized microbes if life ever existed on the red planet.

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Ingenuity has done it again: NASA’s Mars helicopter landed in a new spot it had never seen before

ingenuity second flight mars helicopter
The Perseverance rover captured Ingenuity in mid-air during its second flight on April 22, 2021.

NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter has defied expectations on Mars once again, flying 350 feet south to land in totally new territory.

For the second time, the tissue-box-sized drone flew to a new landing site, hovered above ground that its navigation cameras had never seen before, then gently lowered itself to touchdown. NASA only had information about the new area from its Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which images the red planet from space. The orbiter’s pictures indicated that the spot was flat and should be safe for landing.

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Ingenuity captured this photo of its shadow during its seventh flight on Mars.

The gamble paid off. Now Ingenuity is sitting in a brand new airfield with a total of seven flights under its belt.

“Another successful flight,” NASA announced on Tuesday. The agency did not specify on what day the flight took place, but it was set for no earlier than Sunday.

NASA didn’t originally plan to move the helicopter around so much. It was only designed for five flights, and engineers expected it to crash by the end of that series. But Ingenuity performed so well in its initial, more cautious flights that the agency has sent it on a daring new mission. For as long as it survives, the helicopter is expected to keep flying to new airfields.

Ingenuity helicopter flight shadow moving over mars
NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter took these images on its fourth flight, on April 30, 2021, using the black-and-white navigation camera on its belly.

That new directive gives Ingenuity a chance to test operations that NASA might want to conduct with future space helicopters. That includes scouting and mapping, observing interesting features of Mars from the air, and exploring rough terrain that rovers can’t access.

“The ability to fly the helicopter out into terrain that the rover cannot possibly traverse and bring back scientific data – this is extremely important for future missions that could combine a rover with a reconnaissance helicopter,” Ken Farley, a project scientist with NASA’s Perseverance rover, said in a briefing.

The helicopter conducted the first of these bonus flights on May 22, when it flew a record 700 feet to a new site. In mid-air, its navigation system suffered a glitch that caused the helicopter to pitch side to side as it flew. But even then, Ingenuity stabilized itself enough to land safely. It wound up within about 16 feet of its target spot, touching down in totally uncharted territory for the first time.

ingenuity helicopter mars
NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter, photographed on Mars by the Perseverance rover’s rear Hazard Camera on April 4, 2021.

NASA hasn’t said how many more times Ingenuity may fly.

“We’re in a kind of see-how-it-goes phase,” Lori Glaze, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division, said.

Meanwhile, the Perseverance rover that carried Ingenuity to Mars has started driving south to the region where it will attempt to take its first sample of Martian soil. Its primary mission is to analyze Martian rocks and soil and collect dozens of samples for a future NASA mission to bring back to Earth. In those samples, scientists could find the first evidence of ancient alien microbes – fossils trapped in the bottom of an ancient lake bed.

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NASA’s Perseverance rover has been on Mars 100 days. Its best photos show mysterious rocks, false rainbows, and helicopter flights.

NASA Perseverance
Perseverance took a selfie with the Ingenuity helicopter on April 6, 2021.

As of Tuesday, NASA’s Perseverance rover has spent 100 days on the red planet.

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Perseverance photographed its own cameras.

It landed in Mars’ Jezero Crater on February 18. If life ever existed on the planet, this ancient lake bed may hold fossils of ancient alien microbes.

Perseverance Rover
NASA’s Perseverance rover descends to touch down on Mars, February 18, 2021.

Cameras aboard the rover and on the jetpack that lowered it to the Martian surface captured the first-ever video footage of a Mars landing.

Since then, Perseverance has built up a library of stunning photos.

perseverance mars rover landing jetpack
Perseverance photographed the jetpack above that lowered the rover to the Martian surface, February 18, 2021.

NASA has been sharing new images from the rover almost every day, as Perseverance beams them back to Earth.

The rover began to photograph its surroundings shortly after landing, capturing Jezero Crater’s cliffs, boulder fields, and sand dunes.

jezero crater rim perseverance mars rover mastcam z panorama
The rim of Jezero Crater as seen in the first 360-degree panorama taken by the Mastcam-Z instrument aboard NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover.

The rover is equipped with 23 cameras. Some help it navigate Martian terrain by spotting potential hazards like large rocks or trenches. Others allow human operators on Earth to check that the rover’s parts are in good shape.

The Perseverance team stitched together 142 images that Perseverance captured to create a panorama of the area.

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The first 360-degree panorama taken by Mastcam-Z, made up of images captured during Perseverance’s third day on Mars.

Within a month, the rover spotted its first dust devil.

 

Mars doesn’t have rainbows, but Perseverance captured a lens flare that looked like one.

Mars Rainbow
A Perseverance photo from April featured a lens flare that looked like a Martian rainbow.

“Rainbows aren’t possible here,” NASA tweeted from its Perseverance account. “Rainbows are created by light reflected off of round water droplets, but there isn’t enough water here to condense, and it’s too cold for liquid water in the atmosphere. This arc is a lens flare.”

To test its laser tool, the rover zapped a nearby rock and photographed the line of dots it left on the surface.

perseverance rover laser zaps rock skitch
Perseverance photographed the line of dots its laser left on a rock that it zapped in March 2021.

Perseverance uses a laser to vaporize the dust on rocks in order to study the minerals inside.

Perseverance even spotted its own shadow.

perseverance rover shadow on mars rocks
A hazard-avoidance camera captured Perseverance’s shadow falling on Martian rocks on May 25, 2021.

The rover’s cameras have also documented the Ingenuity helicopter’s journey, starting from its descent from the rover’s belly onto the Martian surface.

Ingenuity helicopter unfolds below perseverance rover
Perseverance dropped its belly pan (left) to reveal the Ingenuity helicopter and allow it to unfold (right).

The helicopter is a technology demonstration — NASA engineers wanted to see if they could fly it in the thin Martian atmosphere. Because it has just 1% the density of Earth’s atmosphere, that’s the Earth equivalent of flying at three times the height of Mount Everest.

After Ingenuity emerged, Perseverance looked back as it backed away, leaving the 4-pound drone to survive its first frigid Martian night alone.

Mars ingenuity helicopter nasa perseverance rover
The Ingenuity helicopter on Mars, sitting where the Perseverance rover dropped it, April 5, 2021.

Nighttime temperatures on Mars can plunge as low as negative 130 degrees Fahrenheit, but Ingenuity’s insulation and heaters have kept it warm enough to survive.

Perseverance took an impressive selfie with Ingenuity before driving to the overlook from which it would later watch the helicopter fly.

Perseverance selfie
Perseverance took a selfie with Ingenuity on April 6, 2021.

The selfie is actually a mosaic of 62 individual images.

When Ingenuity lifted itself from the red dust for the first time and made history, Perseverance was watching.

ingenuity second flight mars helicopter
The Perseverance rover captured Ingenuity in mid-air during its second flight on April 22, 2021.

These were the first controlled, powered flights ever conducted on another planet.

The rover captured full video of the helicopter’s first flights, too.

Ingenuity performed so well during its first three flights that NASA gave it an extended mission. Now it’s flying to new airfields and scouting uncharted territory — testing out tasks that NASA hopes to accomplish with future Mars helicopters. 

Now that Ingenuity’s initial flights are done, Perseverance has begun its primary science mission.

mars santa cruz mountain nasa perseverance rover
The Mastcam-Z imager capture this image of “Santa Cruz,” a hill about 1.5 miles away from Perseverance, on April 29, 2021.

The rover’s main goal is to collect samples of Martian rock that could contain hints of ancient microbial life on Mars. It will cache these samples for a future NASA mission to bring back to Earth.

The rover’s zooming cameras have begun studying mysterious rocks, starting with the “zoom test” pictured below.

When NASA scientists saw that Perseverance’s landing site was surrounded by these kinds of rocks, they changed the rover’s plans to stay in the area a few weeks longer. They want to learn whether these are volcanic rocks, or the kind that come from river sediment. Sticking around also allowed Ingenuity to continue flying.

Once it’s done studying those rocks, Perseverance is set to drive towards the cliffs of the river delta that once fed Lake Jezero.

jezero crater river delta remnant perseverance rover mars
A remnant of the Jezero river delta rises against the cliffs of the crater, as photographed by Perseverance on February 22, 2021.

There, scientists expect to find soil and rock rich with ancient river deposits of mud and clay — and perhaps fossils of microbes trapped inside them.

Aria Bendix contributed reporting.

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Elon Musk said SpaceX’s offshore launch platform called ‘Deimos’ is under construction for launch next year

Elon Musk
Elon Musk

  • Elon Musk said SpaceX’s offshore launch platform called Deimos is under construction.
  • In a tweet Sunday, he said the platform could be ready for launch operations next year.
  • The platform is set to be used for the SpaceX Starship rockets.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Elon Musk said that SpaceX’s ocean spaceport, called Deimos, is under construction and could begin launch operations next year.

Musk tweeted about the offshore launch platform, which is part of the forthcoming Starship rocket system, on Sunday in response to a rendered image shared by a fan.

Read more: Tesla is backing a new Europe project to build a big charging hub, shortly after Elon Musk made a mysterious UK stopover

The platform is intended to be used as a launch and landing platform for the SpaceX Starship, a spacecraft that Musk intends to send to Mars. SpaceX purchased two oil rigs off the coast of Texas earlier this year to serve as “floating” launchpads for the Starship. The platforms have been named Deimos and Phobos, after Mars’ moons.

The latest prototype of the Starship made a safe ascent and landing earlier this month. The reusable vehicle could be a “game-changer for space travel,” the BBC reported.

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NASA’s Mars helicopter will attempt a perilous landing in unknown territory during its first ‘bonus’ flight this week

ingenuity helicopter mars
NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter, photographed on Mars by the Perseverance rover on April 4, 2021.

A month ago, NASA was preparing to sacrifice its Mars helicopter in the name of science.

Ingenuity was designed to soar five times over the Martian surface as a technology demonstration. With each flight, NASA engineers were pushing the 4-pound rotorcraft as far and fast as it would go, so they anticipated that it would eventually crash.

But time and again, Ingenuity wasn’t felled – not by the strong Martian winds, clouds of copper dust, or other challenges to its mechanics and navigation system. So by the end of April, NASA announced that it would extend the helicopter’s life on Mars.

Ingenuity has now embarked on a new, secondary mission to scout out Martian terrain and test operations that NASA might want to conduct with future space helicopters. That includes exploring rough areas that rovers can’t access, observing interesting features of Mars from the air, and snapping photos for elevation maps.

Ingenuity is scheduled to complete its first “bonus” flight – the helicopter’s sixth flight in total – within the next few days. The excursion will require more precise maneuvering and aerial observations than any of Ingenuity’s previous flights, making it the drone’s riskiest voyage yet.

During its first four flights, Ingenuity returned to the same landing spot, which NASA dubbed Wright Brothers Field. But it’s now making one-way trips to different areas.

Ingenuity’s fifth flight took it to a new spot in Mars’ Jezero Crater, a 28-mile-wide impact basin that was filled with water about 3.5 billion years ago. The helicopter had scouted out the location during a previous flight.

This week’s flight will be the first time Ingenuity touches down at an area that it didn’t previously survey.

NASA’s only information about that new landing spot, called “Field C,” comes from images collected by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. These suggest the area is relatively flat and boulder-free, making it a safe place to land.

The plan is for Ingenuity to spend 140 seconds above the Martian surface – the longest it has ever been airborne – moving at a speed of 9 miles per hour. Ingenuity should also soar 33 feet in the air, an altitude it reached during its fifth flight, which NASA engineers previously thought impossible for the little drone.

From there, it’s programmed to head southwest for about 492 feet then move about 50 to 66 feet south. Along the way, Ingenuity should capture images of bright Martian outcrops and sand ripples. After that, the chopper is set to fly about 164 feet northeast before touching down at Field C.

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NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter can be seen hovering during its third flight on April 25, 2021.

‘Ingenuity is not going to land gently’

At this point, every one of Ingenuity’s landings is challenging.

“Note that Ingenuity is not going to land gently – it will attempt to fly in winds as high as 22 mph,” Bob Balaram, Ingenuity’s chief engineer, and Jeremy Tyler, an aeromechanical engineer at AeroVironment, wrote in a coauthored post for NASA.

ingenuity second flight mars helicopter
The Perseverance rover captured a photo of Ingenuity in mid-air during its second flight on April 22, 2021.

“Our strategy for landing in windy conditions is to come down with authority, placing Ingenuity’s feet firmly on the ground so that it won’t drift across the surface of Mars and snag a foot on a rock,” they said.

The helicopter’s suspension system is designed to cushion its touchdown on the Martian surface. But it’s still possible that the rotorcraft could tip over and land on its side, which would damage the blades, effectively ending Ingenuity’s mission.

“We hope we will be flying over unsurveyed terrains and, over time, continuing to transfer to airfields that are not well characterized. So there is a higher probability of bad landing,” MiMi Aung, the Ingenuity project manager, said in a recent briefing.

Even before Ingenuity’s new mission, Aung repeatedly said that a bad landing could end the chopper’s flights. So far, however, the helicopter continues to exceed expectations.

Ingenuity’s fate is tied to the Perseverance rover

ingenuity mars

NASA extended Ingenuity’s mission by 30 days on April 30, so the mission isn’t guaranteed to continue next month. But the drone could keep flying longer, as long as it stays alive and doesn’t interfere with the science work of the Perseverance rover, which carried Ingenuity to Mars.

“We’re in a kind of see-how-it-goes phase,” Lori Glaze, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division, said last month.

Perseverance has begun its main mission on the red planet: hunting for fossils of ancient alien microbes.

For now, that work is taking place near the helicopter, since Ingenuity must communicate with NASA through the rover.

NASA’s initial plan called for Perseverance to travel farther from its landing spot in the Jezero Crater than it has by now. But then the rover photographed some promising rocks that convinced NASA scientists to further investigate the immediate region.

“These rocks are likely to be mudstones, very fine grained, once mud on the bottom of the lake,” Perseverance scientist Ken Farley said in a briefing last month. “These are very important for our investigation, because this is the kind of environment that we expect to be the most habitable by organisms that might have existed on Mars billions of years ago.”

Morgan McFall-Johnsen contributed reporting.

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China’s Mars rover has made its first tracks on the red planet

china mars zhurong rover
An artist’s illustration depicts China’s Zhurong rover on the surface of Mars.

China has become only the second nation to ever drive a rover on Mars, joining the US.

After successfully touching down on the red planet on May 15, the Chinese National Space Administration’s Zhurong rover sat tight on its landing pad, charging up as its solar panels soaked in energy from the sun.

On Saturday, the rover – named after a god of fire in Chinese mythology – finally left its lander behind.

At 10:40 am Beijing time, Zhurong rolled down a ramp and onto the Martian surface, according to a post on the rover’s social media account, Reuters reported.

china mars zhurong rover
A photo taken by China’s Zhurong rover depict the Tianwen-1 lander’s ramp and the surface of Mars, May 22, 2021.

According to China’s state media outlet, Xinhua, the rover then completed its first test drive, “leaving the country’s first ‘footprints’ on the red planet.”

The mission that brought Zhurong to Mars is called Tianwen-1, meaning “questions to heaven.” It’s the first Mars mission ever to send a spacecraft into the planet’s orbit, drop a landing platform onto the Martian surface, and deploy a rover all in one expedition.

Exploring a volcanic-rock field for signs of water ice

zhurong rover mars china
A screen broadcasts a CCTV state media news bulletin, showing an image of Mars taken by Chinese Mars rover Zhurong as part of the Tianwen-1 mission, in Beijing, China, May 19, 2021.

The Tianwen-1 lander carried Zhurong inside of it down to Mars’ Utopia Planitia – a giant plain in the planet’s northern hemisphere.

Now that it’s ready to roll, Zhurong will explore the plain and search for underground water ice, while also capturing 3D images of the surface and examining the chemical make-up of Martian soil.

Utopia Planitia is a vast field of ancient volcanic rock that may have extensive reserves of water ice beneath its surface. If space agencies like NASA and CNSA send humans to Mars one day, water would be a crucial resource because it can both sustain astronauts and get broken down into hydrogen and oxygen for rocket fuel. It’s unlikely Mars-bound spaceships could carry enough water, oxygen, and hydrogen for the entire journey there and back.

china mars zhurong rover
A photo taken by China’s Zhurong rover released May 22, 2021 show the rover has rolled off its lander and onto the Martian surface.

On Wednesday, China released Zhurong’s first photos from the red planet.

The color image below, taken by the rover’s navigation camera, shows Zhurong’ sitting atop the Tianwen-1 lander with its solar panels unfolded.

china mars rover zhurong
A photo showing the back of China’s Zhurong rover from its landing spot on Mars’ Utopia Planitia following a May 15, 2021 landing.

A rover with an active suspension system

Zhurong becomes the sixth rover ever to successfully operate on Mars. In the last 24 years, NASA landed and drove five rovers. The Soviet Union managed to land a rover in 1971, but lost contact with it before the mission could begin.

At 530 pounds, Zhurong is about the size of the twin Spirit and Opportunity rovers NASA put on Mars in 2004.

Zhurong has about 90 days to study the red planet. (That’s its official mission timeline, but Spirit and Opportunity had the same three-month window and ended up exploring Mars for six and 14 years, respectively.)

The Chinese rover can move about 656 feet (200 m) per hour, and drive up and over obstacles that are a foot tall, Xinhua reported.

What makes Zhurong unique, however, is its active suspension system.

NASA’s rovers, including Perseverance, use a passive suspension system called rocker-bogie, which helps the vehicles put the same amount of weight on each of their six wheels. This minimizes how much the rovers tilt over uneven terrain.

But each of Zhurong’s six wheels can be controlled independently, and its active suspension system may adjust how much weight needs to go on each wheel to help rover climb steeper slopes or obstacles.

“It could help the rover get out of trouble” if Zhurong encounters loose sandy soil or densely distributed rocks, Jia Yang, deputy chief designer of the Tianwen-1 mission, told Xinhua.

NASA Perseverance

Now that the Tianwen-1 lander and Zhurong rover have reached Mars, NASA’s Perseverance rover and Ingenuity helicopter are no longer the red planet’s newest arrivals.

Perseverance touched down on Mars three months ago carrying Ingenuity, in part of the planet called the Jezero Crater.

It’s unlikely China and the US’s rovers will ever cross paths. While both Utopia Planitia and the Jezero Crater are in Mars’ northern hemisphere, the distance between the two landing sites is about 1,000 miles.

Morgan McFall-Johnsen contributed reporting to this story.

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NASA has captured an aerial shot of the Curiosity rover scaling Mont Mercou on Mars

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The Curiosity rover during its ascent.

  • NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter spotted Curiosity climbing a rocky outcrop known as Mont Mercou.
  • The photo was taken at an altitude of 167.5 miles above the rover.
  • The hills beyond the area, which gained its nickname from a French mountain, are rich in sulfates.

NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) snapped a dramatic image of the Curiosity rover climbing Mont Mercou, a terrene near the centre of Gale Crater, according to the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory at The University of Arizona.

MRO captured the image on April 18 using its High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment tool (HiRISE), which can spot features as small as a kitchen table. So, even at an altitude of 167.5 miles above the rover at the time, the car-sized Curiosity rover was in plain sight, according to the HiRISE team’s image description.

Since 2014, Curiosity has been climbing the 3-mile-high Mount Sharp, the central peak of the Gale Crater. Its mission has been to scour the red planet for past signs of microbial life. In early March, Curiosity began approaching Mont Mercou, which is named after a mountain in France, as Insider reported.

In its first two years on Mars, Curiosity confirmed that the Gale Crater was a lake filled with the chemical ingredients suitable for life. Since then, Curiosity has unearthed organic material, sniffed out mysterious spikes in the Martian atmosphere’s methane levels, and discovered evidence that small, salty ponds remained as Mars dried out.

Curiosity will likely uncover more secrets about Mars’ past as it explores Mont Mercou.

The hills just beyond Mont Mercou are prolific in sulfates, “so that is where we’re headed,” said Curiosity’s deputy project scientist Abigail Fraeman, of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, in a video update.

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China’s Mars rover has beamed back its first images of the red planet

china mars global remote sensing and small rover hx 1 martian mission illustration rendering cas xinhua
An illustration of China’s Zhurong rover leaving the lander to explore the Martian surface.

  • China’s Zhurong rover, which landed on Mars on Saturday, sent back its first images of the planet.
  • The rover’s cameras snapped photos of the Martian landscape from onboard the Tianwen-1 lander.
  • China is the third nation ever to land on Mars. Its rover aims to study water ice under the surface.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

China made history on Saturday when it successfully landed a spacecraft on Mars, making it just the third nation ever to do so.

On Wednesday, the Chinese National Space Administration (CNSA) received its first postcard from the red planet.

The CNSA released the images, one color and one black-and-white, on Wednesday.

The color image below, taken by the navigation camera on China’s Mars rover, shows its solar panels unfolded, soaking in the sun’s ray for energy. The rover is called Zhurong, after a god of fire in Chinese mythology.

china mars rover zhurong
A photo showing the back of China’s Zhurong rover from its landing spot on Mars’ Utopia Planitia, following a May 15, 2021 landing.

China’s Mars mission is called Tianwen-1, meaning “questions to heaven.” It’s the first Mars mission ever to send a spacecraft into the planet’s orbit, drop a landing platform onto the Martian surface, and deploy a rover all in one expedition.

The Tianwen-1 lander carried Zhurong inside of it down to Mars’ Utopia Planitia – a giant plain in the planet’s northern hemisphere. The rover is still in the lander, but it’s expected to drive down a built-in ramp to get off the lander and onto the surface of Mars either Friday or Saturday, Space.com reported.

Zhurong’s obstacle-avoidance camera took the black-and-white image below, which depicts the lander ramp.

china mars rover zhurong
A photo from a camera onboard China’s Zhurong rover on Mars, released on May 19, 202, about 4 days after it landed.

Once the rover drives down that ramp, it’s programmed to explore the plain and search for underground water ice.

Utopia Planitia is a vast field of ancient volcanic rock that may have extensive reserves of water ice beneath its surface. If space agencies like NASA and CNSA send humans to Mars one day, water would be a crucial resource because it can both sustain astronauts and get broken down into hydrogen and oxygen for rocket fuel. It’s unlikely Mars-bound spaceships could carry enough water, oxygen, and hydrogen for the entire journey there and back.

Once the 530-pound Zhurong rover is on the ground, it has about 90 days to study Mars.

Zhurong is 1,000 miles away from NASA’s Perseverance rover

NASA Perseverance
NASA’s Perseverance rover and the Ingenuity helicopter in the Jezero Crater, April 8, 2020.

Now that the Tianwen-1 lander and Zhurong rover have reached Mars, NASA’s Perseverance rover and Ingenuity helicopter are no longer the red planet’s newest arrivals.

Perseverance touched down on Mars three months ago carrying Ingenuity, in part of the planet called the Jezero Crater.

Perseverance is set to explore Mars in search of signs of ancient microbial life. Ingenuity has thus fr flown over the Martian landscape five times.

It’s unlikely China and the US’s rovers will ever cross paths. While both Utopia Planitia and the Jezero Crater are in Mars’ northern hemisphere, the distance between the two landing sites is about 1,000 miles.

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