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29 April, 2021

7 Min Read

GS-III : S&T Space
Zhurong – Mars rover

Zhurong – Mars rover

GS-Paper-3: S&T-Space – UPSC PRELIMS – Mains Application

Chinese government announced that its first Mars rover will be named Zhurong after a traditional fire god. This name fits with the Chinese name for Mars - “Huo Xing” or fire star.

The rover is aboard the Tianwen-1 probe that arrived in Mars orbit in February, 2021 and is due to land in May to look for evidence of life. The top candidate for the landing site on Mars is Utopia Planitia, a rock-strewn plain where the U.S. lander Viking 2 touched down in 1976.

Tianwen-1's Goals - To analyse and map the Martian surface and geology, look for water ice, study the climate and surface environment. China would become the third country after the former Soviet Union and the United States to put a robot rover on Mars.

Mars

It is the fourth planet from the Sun and the second-smallest planet in the Solar System. Mars is about half the size of Earth. As Mars orbits the Sun, it completes one rotation every 24.6 hours, which is very similar to one day on Earth (23.9 hours).

Mars' axis of rotation is tilted 25 degrees with respect to the plane of its orbit around the Sun. This is similar with Earth, which has an axial tilt of 23.4 degrees. Like Earth, Mars has distinct seasons, but they last longer than seasons on Earth since Mars takes longer to orbit the Sun (because it's farther away). Martian days are called sols—short for ‘solar day’.

Surface: It has colors such as brown, gold and tan. The reason Mars looks reddish is due to oxidation or rusting of iron in the rocks, and dust of Mars. Hence it is also called Red Planet.

Mars has the largest volcano in the solar system i.e. Olympus Mons. It's three times taller than Earth's Mt. Everest with a base the size of the state of New Mexico.

Atmosphere: Mars has a thin atmosphere made up mostly of carbon dioxide, nitrogen and argon gases.

Mars has no magnetic field till date, but areas of the Martian crust in the southern hemisphere are highly magnetized, indicating traces of a magnetic field.

Moons: Mars has two small moons, Phobos and Deimos, that may be captured asteroids.

Previous Mars Missions:

  • The Soviet Union in 1971 became the first country to carry out a Mars landing, Mars 3.
  • The second country to reach Mars’s surface is the United State of America (USA). Since 1976, it has achieved 8 successful Mars landings, the latest being the ‘InSight’ in 2019.
  • European Space Agency has been able to place their spacecraft in Mars’s orbit through the Mars Express Mission.
  • India’s Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) or Mangalyaan: It was launched from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Andhra Pradesh by Indian Space Research Organisation in November 2013. It was launched on board a PSLV C-25 rocket with aim of studying Martian surface and mineral composition as well as scan its atmosphere for methane (an indicator of life on Mars).

Why missions: First, Mars is a planet where life may have evolved in the past. Conditions on early Mars roughly around 4 billion years ago were very similar to that of Earth. It had a thick atmosphere, which enabled the stability of water on the surface of Mars.

Mars is the only planet that humans can visit or inhabit in the long term. Venus and Mercury have extreme temperatures – the average temperature is greater than 400 degree C. All planets in the outer solar system starting with Jupiter are made of gas – not silicates or rocks – and are very cold. Mars is comparatively hospitable in terms of temperature, with an approximate range between 20 degrees C at the Equator to minus 125 degrees C at the poles.

Perseverance rover

About:

Launched on July of 2020.

It is expected to touch down on Mars at the Jezero Crater.

The primary task of Perseverance is to seek signs of ancient life and collect samples of rock and reglolith to possibly return these to Earth.

  1. Perseverance is fueled by electrical power by using heat of plutonium’s radioactive decay.
  2. NASA Perseverance gets shape memory alloys to remain steady on surface of Mars.
  3. Armed with drills, cameras and lasers, Perseverance is set to explore Mars.

Why is this mission significant?

  1. Perseverance will carry a unique instrument, MOXIE or Mars Oxygen ISRU Experiment: which for the first time will manufacture molecular oxygen on Mars using carbon dioxide from the carbon-dioxide-rich atmosphere (ISRU means In Situ Resource Utilization: or the use of local resources to meet human needs or requirements of the spacecraft).
  2. It will carry Ingenuity, the first ever helicopter to fly on Mars. This is the first time NASA will fly a helicopter on another planet or satellite.

Previous Mars Missions by NASA:

  1. NASA has been sending rovers on Mars since 1997 when the Mars Pathfinder Mission was initiated.
  2. As the mission turned out to be successful, NASA decided to continue going to Mars to find evidence.
  3. Second time, the space organization sent twin rovers, Spirit and Opportunity to Mars in 2003.
  4. The third attempt was by sending Curiosity in 2012.

Source: TH

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